Author: Paula McLain
Genre: Historical Ficiton
Date Published: 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
The Paris Wife is brilliant, beautiful, and heart wrenching. Set in 1920s Paris, a time of transition and innovation, this novel tells the true story of Ernest Hemmingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. Hadley is a practical women – honest and all things good. She brings out the best in Ernest and loves him to a fault. Their marriage is one with many obstacles, such as Ernest’s severe mood swings, his fierce commitment to his career, and even infidelity. Sometimes I wished she would finally snap and let Ernest have it. I wanted her to scream at him, to make him truly understand how much he hurt her. But no, that is not Hadley’s way. She is ever the perfect wife.
Despite its beautiful descriptions of Paris and the incredible era of the ’20s, this book is a love story above all else. In fact, Paula McLain stated her whole idea for this book started when she read A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemmingway’s memoir of his and Hadley’s days in Paris. In the final pages, he writes of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”
Surrounded by greats like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hadley and Ernest live exciting lives. The novel is so full to the brim of famous names from the “Lost Generation” that I found myself often pulling out my computer to research the many secondary characters that make cameo appearances. It was as though I was transported back in time, and I wanted to learn more about these fascinating people. Paula McLain’s commitment to staying true to the facts is admirable. I became enraptured by the story of the Hemmingways and sought out more information about them. I was surprised to learn how much of The Paris Wife is factually accurate.
The Paris Wife goes deeper than simply telling the story of the often forgotten first Hemmingway wife. It delves into the universal struggles of marriage and love. Despite their fame and the fact that this story takes place ninety years ago, Hadley and Ernest go through many of the struggles couples go through today. This brings the novel down to earth and renders it relatable to a modern audience. When reading this novel, I could feel Hadley’s love, strength, and heartache. Paula McLain breathes life into her, finally giving her a voice and a presence that will live on, allowing her to move out of the shadow of Ernest Hemmingway and be given her own identity. I came to love her and her story will stay with me for a long time to come.