Wendy's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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's review
Dec 07, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011-reads, cpl, ebooks, girly-books, history-based-fiction, french-tastic, 2017-reads
Read in November, 2011

Hadley and Ernest Hemingway gave each other silly nicknames, lived in Paris surrounded by Important Artists, and had a marriage that collapsed in about five years. Despite the facts of history and the foreshadowing at the front of the book, I still hoped that somehow things would turn out better.

The book presents several factors that might have contributed to the marriage failing: Ernest putting his craft above all else, breaches of trust like Hadley losing his manuscripts on a train, the war changing things people once viewed as sacred and permanent, the influence of the couple's bohemian friends with their complicated love lives, etc. At one point it's explained how Hemingway burned his bridges with friends who had been important mentors, and the idea is that he had to cut ties with them almost to prove to himself that he hadn't needed their help to succeed. Perhaps that's what happened with Hadley also. He really did seem to need and love her at first... until he finished The Sun Also Rises. (To his credit, he did at least give her the royalties from it.)

It was interesting to see how at the beginning of their marriage, Hadley and Ernest couldn't imagine how the other couples they knew could function the way they did, with open relationships and love triangles and the like. People seemed to view the Hemingways as set apart and above it all, like they were the model of love and if they couldn't make it, no one could. By the end of the book, though, they've turned into the couple with the relationship their newly married friends view with shock and disbelief.

The book is mostly written from Hadley's perspective, but there are occasional breaks of short sections written more from Hemingway's point of view. I found these quite powerful and effective. While the pair had decided to be honest and straightforward with each other, the Ernest sections make Hadley's seem meandering. They are raw, real, vibrant, dark, and very briefly manage to explain a lot about just what might have been going on in that man's head.

I've read some Hemingway in the past, but it's been a while, and what's stuck in my mind is more the feeling of his writing than the substance of it. There was a list I read once of famous people's made up answers to the question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" The Hemingway answer: "To die. In the rain." That pretty much sums him up for me. While he seems like kind of a jerk in the book (especially by the end), I think the author did a good job of capturing all that was compelling and exciting and attractive about him as well. I could see why Hadley fell for him as well as what he was drawn to in her.

I really enjoyed the writing in the book and flipped back through it again afterwards revisiting some interesting lines. Beautifully sad interpretation of the couple's life together and how it all came apart.

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08/05/2017 marked as: read

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

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message 1: by Lidia (new)

Lidia That sounds so bittersweet that I'm questioning whether I should read it.

Wendy yeah, it depends on your tolerance for tragedy I guess.

message 3: by Lidia (last edited Nov 07, 2011 07:28PM) (new)

Lidia Mine is about nil so I guess I will take that off my list. Lol I have serious issues with purposely making myself sad. So thanks for that lol

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