Book Review: The Paris Wife

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On the train to Portland

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain 

Lizzie rating: 3/5

Hadley Richardson meets and falls in love with a younger Ernest Hemingway. After a brief, mostly written, courtship they marry and subsequently move to Paris to support Ernest’s writing career. Over their five and a half year marriage Ernest writes several short stories, covers the Greek occupation of Smyrna, and publishes The Sun Also Rises. They are an unusual couple in their circle, Hadley does not aggressively pursue her own artistic projects or a career as many of the other, younger women do. They are truly in love but the partnership is under the constant strain of Ernest’s ego, pride, and the perceived success or failure of his immediate work.

I read and learned to love Hemingway while reading For Whom The Bell Tolls in Italy last summer. I was originally intrigued by Hemingway’s first wife after reading Jacqueline’s review of Paris Without End on The Hourglass Files. (Author’s Note: Jacqueline’s blog is fantastic and you should definitely click over and check it out.) The Paris Wife is a more accessible entry point and was a great read for a train trip. The story is told in a first person narrative by Hadley with very occasional insights into Ernest’s thinking. I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book but was annoyed and distracted by the final section. McLain depicts Hadley as a confused doormat. While Hadley admits to never truly fitting in in Paris, she certainly worked hard to support her husband, was extremely athletic, and made many friends in the ex-pat, artistic circles they frequented. Ernest conducted the affair that ended their marriage in the most horrific way, continually asserting that he was just as pained as Hadley. Puh-lease, you want your cake and eat it too. Spare me your hand wringing.

Ernest Hemingway was a complex man. Obviously, a talented writer but also a man that struggled with person inadequacies that he shuttled between four marriages in an attempt to overcome. McLain had the opportunity to write Hadley as equally complex; motivated by a feeling of service but rooted in a strong sense of self-awareness. Perhaps another author could do better.

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