Customer Review

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Make Believe You're Glad when You're Sorry, 3 May 2011
This review is from: The Paris Wife (Hardcover)
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Firstly, this is a beautifully designed hard-back book with two sepia photo postcards of Ernest Hemingway and his wife inside. This is also a biographical fiction that is penultimately a sad and heartbreaking read.

From onset, the musical motif is Nora Bayes song: Make Believe. And certainly, what our narrator most admires in others is a sort of emotionally closed yet defiant gaiety that I sense was the general consensus at this time. This motif is carried right through the novel to the shocking debacle of "the other woman" slipping into bed with the married couple, an act that is left unchallenged. I was aching for more defensive anger from Hadley (or less passivity) but I do think this type of non-verbalized outrage was more common then than in the present day. We now have words for our feelings and hopefully more stable moral values; women are more assertive. American writers in Paris in the 1920's had lost faith after the war that to the virtuous good things would come. They were reasonably called `The Lost Generation' and this moral decrepitude is well observed throughout The Paris Wife.

Hadley is restricted in her development as a child. In the family of her birth, her place is that of the sickly child who has to be careful about over-reaching herself. Prior to her relationship with Hemingway she suffers two family tragedies, but notwithstanding her sadness and depression about this she thankfully escapes her circumscribed position through marriage.

I also feel that sibling jealousy contributed to her pre-marital hemming in as did her mother who perhaps intended to keep Hadley on at home to look after her in old age. I have left my word-play on Hemingway/hemming-in here intentionally as although she escaped her family restrictions by marrying Hemingway, her marriage ultimately leaves her hemmed-in again which necessitates another escape.

Female rivalry is a continued theme through the novel, from her friend Kate to her final nemesis, Pauline. Although Hadley never labels it as such, it does perhaps fire her mental independence when it comes to her marriage and its denouement. On the other hand, it also seems to contribute to her willingness to lay to rest her own artistic aspirations when she meets Hemingway, and inability to aspire again when her independence is most needed.

Reading The Paris Wife I felt great sympathy for Hadley Richardson yet it also left me intensely interested in Hemingway and his writing as well as the other members of the Lost Generation and their children. All of Mclain's research stacks up well here and there are no discernable borders between her fiction making and the fruits of her research. I would unreservedly recommend The Paris Wife for those interested in The Lost Generation or who like reading biographies. For others (and I am new to reading biographies) this is an outstanding and involving read.
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