Like my last review, I found The Paris Wife through my mom, who very generously let me borrow it (and many more fabulous books).
As a writer, English major, and literature lover, I’ve always been interested in Ernest Hemingway and his life. Hell, you don’t need any kind of inclination toward words to be drawn into his history—it’s truly fascinating on its own merit. The man lived, hard and fast and all over the place, soaking in adventures that could easily span a hundred lifetimes, from wars to safaris to bull races to Key West sailing.
This book isn’t necessarily about all of that. Instead, the protagonist is Ernest’s first wife, Hadley. It’s her story. And that has been one of the most refreshing twists—The Paris Wife is her version of events. Ernest is a character and not the author, and that’s appealing from start to finish.
- Author: Paula McLain
- Genre: Historical fiction
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2011
- More info: www.goodreads.com/book/show/8683812-the-paris-wife
It’s the 1920s, and we’re introduced to 28-year-old Hadley Richardson, a young woman who has lived a quiet experience, pronounced with trauma and strained relationships. She’s ready to go out on her own and start experiencing the world.
She ventures off to Chicago and meets 21-year-old Ernest Hemmingway, a journalist with a big personality and even bigger dreams of pursuing his writing career.
The story follows Hadley and Ernest, as they begin their relationship, get married, and move to Paris during the 1920s jazz years. In Paris, they step into a world of partying, dancing, and scraping to get by with other writers and artists and ex-pats—Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott F. Fitzgerald, and more.
The Paris Wife details their life together, throughout their marriage, as Ernest grinds and makes his way to recognition and releases his novels to critical acclaim, and as Hadley explores her own role in Paris, her relationship, and in the world.
I absolutely loved The Paris Wife. There’s something about historical fiction that’s thrilling to me—knowing that these very real people were doing these actual things and making history while doing it, blows my mind. Ernest Hemmingway, one of the greatest authors in American history, especially hooked me.
I’ve been to his old estate in Key West, which he lived in with a future spouse—not Hadley. There, his history with women was brought up, kind of as a joke. “He was quite the ladies man.” The man had four wives. Hadley was the first, though she’s rarely talked about outside of the nickname “The Paris wife,” along with the company they kept. I love that this book makes her the main character, and gives attention to who she really is.
The thing is, what drew me into this book is also what I disliked the most. Ernest. Though he’s charismatic and brilliant and you’re rooting for the two of them, it’s such a blow when he mucks things up. You can see his shift away from Hadley, and it’s so frustrating. Spoiler: he cheats on her. When he first did this, I set the book down for days because I was so angry with him. Though I eventually kept reading, I couldn’t really get over the hurt he dished out on Hadley and how he handled their relationship to the end.
Overall, this is a great book. It’s a gorgeous period piece, and you can practically hear the vibrations of jazz and taste drops of whiskey on your lips and feel the rush of a new era emerging. It’s a little tragic in many ways, fascinating in others, and well written throughout. I appreciated all that I learned, and that I’ll always remember Hadley as much more than a bookmarked wife in a famous man’s legacy. She has her own, too.
This is a great book. I’d give The Paris Wife a 4/5 star rating.
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If you read The Paris Wife, please let me know what you think!