David Hallman's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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Aug 22, 12

Read in January, 2012

“Rings so true” – yes and no

On the dust jacket of Paula McLain’s entrancing novel “The Paris Wife” is a commendation congratulating McLain on creating a convincing portrait of Ernest Hemingway and the Paris in which he and his first wife Hadley lived—a portrait that “rings so true.”

I liked “The Paris Wife” for many reasons but that was not one of them.

In fact, my main reaction as I worked through this finely written novel was the disjuncture that I felt between the image that I have of Hemingway and the way he and his life are described by the Hadley that McLain imagines and sets as the narrator of the story.

I have no quarrel about the descriptive details or the history recounted. I’m certainly no authority on Hemingway but I trust that McLain accurately depicts his life, his loves, his travels, and his writing history.

What discomforted me as I read was the gentility of the tone.

From all accounts, Hadley Richardson was an intelligent, grounded, and supportive wife for Hemingway during his early career. She was a stabilizing force for his flamboyant and often irascible personality. So it does make sense that the voice of the narrator is a calm and sensitive one.

But it felt too calm and too sensitive for my taste, almost to the point of detachment.

It felt more real and visceral in the final pages as the marriage comes to a poignant end. I wish that tone had been more consistently present throughout.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the descriptions of places and personalities that populated the Hemingway-Hadley life together and the vignettes of Hemingway’s early writing struggles.

“The Paris Wife” is not a biography but an imagined recounting in which “Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway, and other people who actually lived appear in this book as fictional characters.” As an author who is also writing in this grey nexus between fact and fantasy (creative non-fiction or historical fiction or some combination thereof), I have great admiration for McLain’s skill. I recommend the novel as both an entertaining read and a laudable example of bringing historical/literary figures to life.

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Information on Paula McLain's "The Paris Wife" available at: http://amzn.to/NF39Cc

Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” available on my website at http://DavidGHallman.com

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Paula "Too calm and too sensitive" for my taste too. There were few things calm and sensitive in their life together, and that's another reason why this book didn't do it for me at all - it was more of a picture of how the author wanted them to be, and none of how it actually was. This was not the Hadley Hemingway I've come to know, her voice through McClain just didn't seem authentic to me. She was no delicate flower -after all, Hemingway married her, and he did not care for hot house flowers...I don't know how detached McClain was, but I don't feel that she stood close enough
to her subjects to create out of her research the real flesh and blood people that they most certainly were. I think she wanted to write a poignant love story, in spite of the facts, and that is what she did. As you wrote, so rightly, this book is not a biography. I hope other readers come to understand this, and look to other books to give them another point of view - of Hadley, of all of them. Great review by the way!


Lana Meredith Such an interesting perspective. I know very little about the Hemingways, so I don't have much to compare it to, but I'm enjoying this book so far. Yet I completely agree with your assessment. Hadley seems overly calm for what is happening. I look forward??! To the 'poignant end.'


David Hallman Lana wrote: "Such an interesting perspective. I know very little about the Hemingways, so I don't have much to compare it to, but I'm enjoying this book so far. Yet I completely agree with your assessment. Hadl..."

Thanks Lana for your comment. David


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