Beth Bonini's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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's review
May 09, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

I do like the sort of historical fiction that uses a structure of knowable facts and then attempts to plausibly imagine the true story of what was felt and said. I can see that others wouldn't care for this style of historical fiction, which is so popular at the moment; but for me, it marries the emotional intimacy of fiction with the pleasures of learning about something that really happened.

In this novel, Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley Freeman is the real-life person fleshed out by the imagination of a writer. The book throws some light on Hadley's origins; it begins at a point when she is finally "freed" after years of taking care of her ill mother. Although she is in her late 20s, she is really just starting out in life. Then it chronicles those knowable events on the Ernest/Hadley timeline: meeting at a party in Chicago, a long correspondence, marrying, moving to Paris and meeting all of those fabled writers (Stein and Pound and Fitzgerald, that rather bizarre sojourn in Canada where Hadley has her baby, the ill-fated trips to Spain.

I was certainly interested in this story, which I mostly knew the outlines of already. But even though the book is ostensibly about Hadley, it is the passionate and monstrously selfish Ernest that seems the more vivid character. Although she narrates the story for us, there was still something rather opaque about her.

Note: Even though I knew about it already, the scene in which she loses ALL of Ernest's manuscripts on the train still fills me with horror. The author suggests that Ernest lost trust/faith with not just Hadley, but all women, after this betrayal. Now that DID seem plausible.

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