Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

the paris wifeThis month, my book club is discussing The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage with Hadley Richardson. I didn’t know much about Hemingway’s personal life before reading this book, much less about Hadley – which I know is probably a major crime for an English major, but I was kind of glad to be able to read this story blind to the historical ending.

Here’s a description of the book from goodreads.com:

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.

Things I loved about this book:

  • McClain’s writing style is pretty much to die for – descriptive and passionate – you really get a full sense of Hadley and the world that she and Ernest shared together.
  • Hadley – I am very drawn to character driven novels and this one definitely fits the bill. If you don’t like Hadley, you might have a hard time reading this book – but I loved her and found her to be a compelling main character.
  • The literary references! English majors will rejoice at this book which tells not just Hemingway and Hadley’s story, but also features Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and more.

Things I loathed in this book:

  • Ernest Hemingway – He may be brilliant, but he was an ass – at least in this story. The fact that Hadley put up with all of his shenanigans is a real testament to her love for him or possibly just the time period. He just might win the award for Worst Husband Ever.
  • Marriage in this circle of friends was just a sad, cruel joke really. The insane amounts of adultery and betrayal were heart breaking and I often wondered “Is it the time period? The effects of the war? The literary world? Is this just how a lot of marriages are?” It really saddened me how many of Hadley and Hemingway’s friends were in equally awful marriages.
  • The Other Women in this book really had a lot of nerve. I won’t name names because I don’t want to give any spoilers for people who have yet to read the book and are equally unaware of the historical facts surrounding this crazy Literary Soap Opera!

Basically, I really loved this book and I’m looking forward to my book club’s discussion tomorrow!

Have you read The Paris Wife?

Any other similar historical fiction books you think I should check out?

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