- The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain
- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 22, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0345521309
Note from Dawn: My neighbor, Sue, read The Paris Wife and wrote this review while in Paris (go ahead, admit it, you’re thinking “how cool is that?!”); I’ll have to ask her if she visited any of the (still-standing?) cafés that Hemingway and Hadley did. Sue tends to prefer non-fiction, so I was pleased to see how much this novel appealed to her … is it on your to-be-read stack?
Back-of-the-book blurb: Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.
Sue’s Review: Sometimes a fictional memoir is so well researched and written that you find yourself not believing it’s fiction. Written in Hemingway’s style, The Paris Wife is such a book. You already know from A Moveable Feast that Hadley Richardson was Hemingway’s first wife. You can guess why he married her, and all the others: he needed constant adoration and praise. He fell out with nearly everybody who was ever nice to him, so wives became a renewable resource. It helped if they had money, were pretty, and could match him drink for drink. (If you got caffeine jitters from reading Stieg Larsson, you’ll get a hangover from this!)
Hadley Richardson was 29 when she married the 21-year old Ernest Hemingway, “the beautiful boy”. She had lived a sheltered life in St. Louis, shattered by her father’s suicide and her mother’s death. Believing she was past her sell-by date, she allowed herself to be swept off her feet by the audacious and intense Ernest and let herself become absorbed totally by him. It is this absorption that is the center of the book. If you picked up this book, you already know about Ernest Hemingway. Paula McLain will help you understand Hadley.