Every now and again you pick up a book and it sings. For me, The Paris Wife is one of those books and I feel very lucky to have found it. Yet now, of course, I'm desperately sad I've finished it, in the sense that I don't quite know how to fill the gap it's left. I feel as if I've lost a lot of friends, good and bad, and I miss them, and the lives they led, now that the last page has turned. That's how good this book is. The action starts in Chicago where twenty-eight year old Hadley Richardson meets and falls in love with a younger man, a struggling writer called Ernest Hemingway. It's the jazz age, the start of the twenties, there's prohibition in America, and people say 'swell' a lot and 'it's a bust.' Written as a memoir, ostensibly (and very convincingly) by Hadley herself but actually by the author Paula McLain drawing on a host of reference works as well as her own glorious imagination, this is literary and social history at first hand, as well as a love story that raises the spirits and then dashes them down. From Chicago to Paris, skiing in Austria, bull-fighting in Spain, and summering on the Côte d'Azur, Hadley covers the tumultous few years of her short and bitter-sweet marriage to one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Seeing everything through Hadley's eyes, and heart, what Paula McLain doesn't do - brilliantly - is make her story spin round Hemingway. This is absolutely Hadley's story, beautifully and sensitively rendered, with Hemingway just one of a large and glittering cast of characters - though the most significant - in her orbit. A glorious read from the first page to the devastating last few pages. Five stars just isn't enough.
Told from the viewpoint of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, this is a very evocative book about, not only their meeting and early marriage, but also of literary 1920's Paris. Apart from Hemingway himself, there are many other familiar names - Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald etc. Yet, it is Hadley's voice, which brings the characters to life. She comes across as extremely sympathetic, likeable and kind - perhaps giving some of her warmth to soften the hard drinking, hard working, self centred artists that abound on the pages. This is an era which interests me greatly and I have read several books about the people mentioned and the places in this book, but can find no fault with the author. Through Hadley's voice, she has recreated an atmosphere and place of great importance to literature. More importantly, she has created a wonderfully enjoyable novel. Sidewalk cafes, Chanel dresses, street markets and artists are all seen through Hadley's eyes, as she soaks it all up and describes it vividly. This is a book to curl up with and enjoy. I would recommend it highly and will look out for more from this author.
This imaginative, sensitive, intelligent novel attempts to imagine a marriage, an era, and a world, and, in my view, it does so surprisingly effectively. Author Paula McLain submerged herself in books, letters, memoirs and anecdotes about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson and then resurfaced to speak, see and feel as this couple might have done, telling the story of their relatively brief but intensely memorable relationship during a richly evocative moment in modern literary and social history. Amidst a backdrop of 1920s Bohemian Paris, peopled by such figures as Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford and Jean Rhys, sipping the wines and the spirits as they mix and interact and compete, McLain looks mainly through the eyes of Hadley Richardson to seek to understand the period and place and explore the rise and fall of her time with a writer traumatised by the Great War and still groping for his literary voice. Through prose knowingly redolent of the period, we move smoothly through some bright and colourful incidents, and some darker and heart-rending scenes, before reflecting on what has died, and what remains. It is in many ways an audacious piece of fiction, and also a rather haunting one.
on 21 June 2012
Anyone with a decent knowledge of Hemingway will see that this excellent novel is historically accurate and true to the central characters. I've read many biographies of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the whole Left Bank Paris thing and the author nails pretty much everything, including the speech patterns of the time, the manners and behaviours then in vogue and the peculiarly insular, self-obsessed world of this tight little American group. Poor Hadley comes across as a likeable, loyal, homely girl out of her depth but trying her best. Hemingway comes over as the pompous, arrogant, but charismatic oaf he clearly was. Ironically, he was eventually crushed by the weight of his own myth and Hadley, who outlived him by 20 years, was well out of it. The best thing I can say about this book is that you often forget its a novel and think you are actually reading Hadley's autobiography - its that convincing. Highly recommended, and you don't have to be a Hemingway devotee to enjoy it.
on 5 November 2011
I find the character development flat/lacking - when the "major" incidents happen to Hadley (and Ernest) I have zero emotion or empathy. I feel the only "selling point" of this book is that it is about Hemingway and takes place in Paris. But the book doesn't give one any insight into jazz-age Paris, nor does it do much to give insight into Hemingway (although there is more depth/development of him than of Hadley). Save your time and money and read "The Sun Also Rises" instead or any of the biographies about Ernest or Hadley. This book does nothing to add to the depth, development, or history of either person.
The Paris of the 1920s is now legendary for the importance and the influence that its Left-Bank artists still hold over our cultural heritage, with Picasso, Joyce, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Pound, Stein and Hemingway all to be found working there and frequenting its cafés. They may have mixed in different circles, but each were pushed on by the immense creativity and experimentation that the others in the émigré community were achieving, revelling also in the sometimes scandalous details of the unconventional artistic lives the others were leading. Paula McLain's evocation of the period, focussing on Hemingway years in Paris, seen through the eyes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson, is masterful in its documentation of this period, bringing it fully and authentically to life.
The Paris years undoubtedly represent the best of Hemingway. This is where he created his early Nick Adams short stories, his prose miniatures and The Sun Also Rises, the novel that, along with The Great Gatsby and Tender Is The Night, best captures the personalities and the mindset of those caught up in the fertile changing times of the post-war period. More than just being a creatively productive period for Hemingway, one where he refined and perfected a pure declarative writing style that would almost descend into self-parody in later years, the time of his marriage to Hadley, being poor, starving and struggling to make a living as a writer in Paris, were later looked upon by Hemingway (whose life has also developed into a kind of self-parody), perhaps somewhat idealistically as being a time of purity and innocence that could never be recreated.
It's perhaps for this reason that Paula McLain attempts to do justice to the period not so much through Hemingway's not-entirely-to-be-trusted memoirs, but through the eyes of the woman who probably deserves to be thought of as more than just Hemingway's Paris wife (the first wife of four). With there being almost no trace of her presence, support or influence on his key works of the period, McLain makes a strong case nonetheless that without Hadley Richardson to encourage Hemingway through his struggles, failures and the torments that still afflicted him from his injuries as a soldier in Europe, we probably would never have the masterpieces he created. The author achieves this magnificently - it's fully researched, adhering perfectly to well-documented events and timelines (including the legendary incident of Hadley's loss of all Hem's early writing on a train), but more than that it feels authentic, never a staged recreation, the characters coming naturally to life with unforced dialogue that cleverly evokes Hemingway's style and the manner of speaking without ever parodying it.
It's all too easy to slip into parody and caricature with Hemingway, not only in his stripped-down, declarative writing style and the machismo of his outlook, but also in making reductive connections between his experiences and his writing. They are undoubtedly linked, but McLain makes convincing connections between the early war experiences, his later depression, his self-doubt and his fascination and fear of death, without over-emphasis. Similarly, in her description of the famous partying at the bull-runs of Pamplona, she shows the differences as well as the similarities between real-life and fiction, where creative licence serves a deeper purpose - one that unfortunately but necessarily excludes Hadley from the picture.
The Paris Wife is however able to redress the balance and it does so brilliantly. Whether this will appeal as much to anyone who knows nothing about the main figures or could care less about Hemingway, is difficult to say, but it ought to. The story of Hadley and Hemingway is a fascinating one, one that beautifully captures the strengths of a marriage of two people as well as the troubles they have to endure and the human mistakes they make, set against a fabulous, swinging background of Paris in a period of romantic glamour, but also, yes, a period of innocence too.
The story of her life beginning and ending with her time with Hemingway as far as the novel is concerned, Hadley Richardson does still remain "the Paris wife", in the shadow of a great writer and, for all their libertarian anti-bourgeois beliefs, still subject to old-fashioned views of a woman's place in a marriage. At the very least however Paula McLain's dazzling novel allows us to see a very real person behind those brief descriptions and blurry black-and-white photographs that remain of Hadley, adding another dimension and putting across a very human view of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times.
on 2 November 2012
I read this book as a member of the reading group recommended it. Reading to the end of the book was a drag. If it had not been for the reading group, I would have have abandoned it much earlier on.
I knew very little about Hemingway, apart from the fact that there are tours organised to track his life in Cuba, and that he has written what are now regarded as classics. A book about part of this famous author's life appeared to be interesting. I was very disappointed and wonder why there are so many 4/5 star reviews of the book.
The style is very pedantic and very boring. Detail is important but when detail becomes the main feature of a book, the reader wonders what the main themes of the book are. It was difficult to find any special themes, unless one is expected to assume that everything about Hemmingway must be interesting. The story of adultery and its consequences is a very common theme, and what one is supposed to conclude from the fact that this is a Paris wife, is not very clear.
In A Note on Sources, the author states that the true story of the Hemingways' marriage is dramatic and compelling. This did not come out in The Paris Wife. Although it appears to be well researched, the author has failed to bring out the true nature of their relationship. Characterization is very poor. Why was Hemingway so much in love with Hadley? What did they see in one another? These are the questions to which we do not get answers.
The author also states that the story of this relationship has been beautifully treated by Hemmingway in A Moveable Feast. I wonder what made Paula McLain believe she could improve on that?
on 14 November 2012
Hemingways wife in this book seems to just whinge about following him through europe. Some people think this book is great, but I prefer my female leads to be a little more empowered, rather than just a wallflower whose' only existence is that of her husbands. Dull.
on 23 July 2012
Although this book is listed as a work of fiction it is a pretty accurate biography of Hadley Richardson Hemingway. All the events and dates seem to be correct and the result is a narrative that could have been (but wasn't) written from Hadley's own diaries.
Hadley and Hemingway set off for Paris soon after their marriage and over the next five years they mixed with an amazing list of great, and not so great, literary characters who were living and working in Paris at that time - Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound to name just a few. Ernest was at that time still trying to make his name as a writer and Hadley was the loyal and supportive wife who believed he would eventually achieve his ambitions. She accompanied him to the bullfights, she hiked through mountains with him and often she spent long periods of time in their Paris flat waiting for him to come home. He was her life. Other women were attracted to Hemingway right from the start as he was good looking and gregarious, but as his reputation as a writer grew so did the amount of attention he received from female friends. Inevitably Hadley was cast aside as her place in his life was taken by her friend Pauline, who became Mrs Hemingway number two. Hadley loved Hemingway when he was just a young aspiring writer, a young man still damaged by his experiences and injuries from the First World War, and one wonders whether the later wives were drawn to the man or his fame and reputation.
The excitement and glamour of Paris in the Jazz Age is seen through Hadley's rather reserved eyes, but it is still easy to see why so many American writers and artists found themselves in Europe in the 1920s. The freedom, and readily available alcohol, fired imagination and creativity spread like a rash. It was all so different to prohibition America.
This is a great book for anyone interested in Hemingway and his early life. It is also a tender love story set in exciting times. A satisfying read.
on 4 January 2013
The style in descriptive passages was more worthy of a magazine than a decent novel. The dialogue was very unconvincing and the characters never came alive.