Alayne Bushey's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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Feb 22, 2011

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Read in February, 2011

I didn’t know much about Ernest Hemingway or his wives before I started The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. This is the story of his first wife, Hadley; a story of how they met, the depth of their love, and how it came to wither away. Set mainly in Paris during prohibition, McLain paints us a picture of two newlyweds on the cusp of greatness. Perched to seize the world by storm, Hadley and Ernest rock on the edge of several lives: that of the happily married couple, that of the poor writer trying to make a living, and that of disaster brought on by depression and angst.

The positive aspect of Paula McLain’s writing is that I forgot this book was about Hemingway’s first wife. Meaning I was able to sink into Hadley’s mind and Ernest’s love and then feel emotional heartbreak as their marriage fell apart. The dialogue for the time period is authentic; quick, sharp, witty and sassy. We are very much inside Hadley’s mind and our emotional connection with her is strong, we feel her passions and pains, her desires and needs. We support her entirely. But I also grew sick of her simpering passiveness, waiting for something to happen as she struggles to find her role in Ernest’s life. Upon discovering this annoyance half-way through the novel, I was pulled out of it entirely. It made me question how much of what I was reading was actually fact. Was this really how Hem’s first wife felt? Was he really this big of an ass?

Beneath my questions of the authenticity of Hadley is Ernest himself, and his pain and waywardness is what drives the story, as it drove their life together. As much as I grew to dislike him, and even Hadley at times, their story is tragically beautiful; so even though there were moments when I felt a lackluster performance from McLain’s writing, the story of these two lovers carried me through to the end, like a good love story should.

Fans of historical fiction will enjoy Hadley’s story, but Hemingway fans will bypass The Paris Wife in favor of his memoir, which I plan to read now that I know a bit more about the tragedy and triumph of this man, and his wife.

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