Anne Tommaso's Reviews > The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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's review
Feb 10, 2012

did not like it
Read from February 19 to 21, 2012

I always get impatient when readers discuss how the likability of a character affected their enjoyment of a book, but I can't get beyond that impulse with The Paris Wife. A question: does Hadley's deserve her own book?

I picked it up because I thought yes, but A Paris Wife is like reading a more precious version of A Moveable Feast. Or Hadley's lament that she didn't make it into A Sun Also Rises. Or a realization that being a wife has to do with loneliness, endurance, wearing shapeless sweaters, and keeping the bed warm.

The story is an inevitable downward spiral...but slow and a little pathetic. I found myself flipping ahead looking for Pauline to get the mess going. Hadley doesn't strike out on her own or object to lascivious behavior but just goes along with it-- which, to me, makes her sad, lonely, and passive. She even Victorianalizes their relationship with Gertrude Stein, calling herself and Alice "the wives." All the characteristics Ernest professes to love: straightforward communication, gritty locales, earthiness, boxing, bull-fighting aren't in the heart of his women at least in this book: Victorian Hadley or Chanel-clad Pauline. It feels capricious and silly.

And for all the drinking, there is no drunkenness.
She cancels her concert. That's so boring.

And as soon as she is single and free, the narrative picks up her next man, the loyal and banal Paul...and they live 30 years happily ever after? But that is the story McLain wants to tell, so back to my question: No. It doesn't seem like Hadley's story begs to be told because McLain doesn't breathe any life into her. Hadley's measure of herself--McLain suggests--is how long she manages to stay quietly submissive and peripheral to Ernest. Or that she will always be the first wife.

What if bringing then losing all his manuscripts was a subconscious act of retaliation? That would be bolder.

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