"The Paris Wife"

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

My inexplicable fascination with Hemingway, especially his Paris years, made me buy this book. His "A Moveable Feast" is one of my favourites but I'm not that keen on his other books so I really don't know what it is that appeals to me so much. I can't say I particularly like him as a person. He was rude and self-centered and often controlled by his dark moods and temper. Maybe it's the bad boy image, or maybe it's just the idea of being in Paris at a time when it was filled with writers, artists and other creative sorts.

This is one of those tricky novels that is based on the lives of real people. I find it gets hard to separate what I've learned about these people in biographies and memoirs from what I'm reading about them in the fictional story. I love reading these novels, but I get frustrated later when I realize that my view of them may not be accurate at all because part of it came from fiction.

Hadley Richardson was Hemingway's first wife and this book is written from her point of view. It's very well written, with vivid, utterly believable characters. McLain is able to make you feel Hadley's excitement as their relationship develops, her growing uneasiness as her life with Ernest begins to fall apart, and her heartbreak when it is finally over. You can't help but like and admire her as a good person and a strong woman who is capable of great love, but also able to be independent and make the hard choices that need to be made.

The book does a good job of describing life in Paris during the years after the first world war when so many American writers were living there and writing the books that would make them famous. Nights were glittering and carefree, but the reality of morning always followed. Ernest and Hadley started out very much in love, but the lifestyle of constant partying, heavy drinking and overt flirting was hard on relationships. Marriage didn't stand much of a chance in that atmosphere, but then marriage to Ernest Hemingway wasn't a very good bet in any atmosphere.

Published in 2012, The Paris Wife was named one of the best books of the year by several newspapers and magazines and I agree it is a compelling read. It's one of those atmospheric novels you can easily lose yourself in and I have to say I very much enjoyed getting lost.


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