June 2024
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Review: The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

Hadley is on the edge of spinsterhood with few prospects when she meets young Ernest Hemingway in Chicago at a friend’s party. She is instantly smitten despite warnings from close friends about his unreliability and winds up marrying him with no regrets, vowing to support his writing at the expense of all else. Newly married Hadley and Ernest head to Paris, where he can hobnob with the most exciting writers of his day, but where Hadley struggles to fit in with socialites and snobs. As the couple travel the world, the tensions of society, of Hadley’s desire for family life, and Ernest’s burgeoning fame and importance start to drive a wedge between them, leaving Hadley to be forever known as the Paris wife.

I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed this book. I was predisposed to like it, shallow as this is, by the beautiful condition it arrived to me as an ARC complete with two picture postcards:

the paris wife arc

They really helped when envisioning the characters and helped me remember that these people really lived. I have only ever read The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, so didn’t really have any preconceived notions about him or his life other than I wasn’t his biggest fan. This book made me incredibly interested in his life and gave me a new historical figure to fixate on in the person of his wife Hadley.

To me this novel illustrated very clearly one of the peculiarities of the writer’s life at the time. Hadley and Ernest are throughout almost constantly struggling for money, pinching pennies and living in unpleasant places, but they are also free to do more or less as they wish. Ernest writes for newspapers and is sent off on excursions, but has days free to work on his fiction and Hadley of course does not work, first keeping house and then taking care of their baby. It’s hard to imagine living such a life as these early twentieth century authors, just breathing in relaxation or going off to party after a few hours’ writing work. Things ease as Hemingway gets more famous, but Hadley is mainly there at the start, when everything is uncertain, when he needs her as an anchor.

The novel also very clearly illustrated how the cracks can grow in a marriage that seems perfectly happy to others. Little disagreements become big disagreements and the magic is lost because neither half works at maintaining their relationship. Even when one tries, both are needed, and there is a clear point of no return here for them. It’s easy to feel for Hadley, who is often thrust in an uncomfortable world and loses friends due to her husband’s moods, and to hope she gets something a bit better in the end. Hemingway is mercurial, needing Hadley’s reassurance, but almost from the start we can see that his success and his selfishness will replace her in the end.

While I never had much interest in the Hemingways before, this work of historical fiction has made me very curious and provided an exceptional story besides of marriage, love, and the writer’s life in the early twentieth century. Highly recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Amazon Vine.


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