The Paris Wife
Friday, December 30, 2011Posted by Melissa (Avid Reader)
The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain
I was fascinated by this book. I’ve said before that I’m not the biggest fan of Ernest Hemingway. I enjoy his short stories, but most of his novels just don’t work for me. In A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, the women come across as empty pictures of one man’s idea of what a perfect woman should be. Hemingway himself was as chauvinistic as they come and that doesn’t appeal to me.
Yet despite my mediocre reaction to those books, I’ve always been intrigued by his life. When I read his nonfiction memoir about his time in Paris, A Moveable Feast, I was completely in love with it. It was the first thing I’d read of his that rang true for me. I adore reading about Paris in the ‘20s. I would have loved to visit the City of Lights when some of the great authors and artists of the century were gathered together there. So when I heard about this novel, a fictionalized account of that same time period from his wife Hadley’s point-of-view, I couldn’t wait to read it.
I think that it was because of all the background that I enjoyed this book so much. There were constant references to his novels and it helped that I had already read them. Hadley’s view of Hemingway, as her husband and closest friend, softens him a bit in my eyes, but at the same time I just wanted to smack him. His actions are so selfish and cavalier, it’s hard to watch him break her heart. It must have been so difficult to share your life with someone so volatile. He was such a child in so many ways. He needed to be coddled and loved, but never discouraged.
I can’t imagine how lonely it was for Hadley. Think about living with a group of friends made entirely of artists and writers, but to not actually be one of them. You’re always on the fringes, not quite up to their level of talent. I think Hemingway also made her feel that way and over time she began to lose her feelings of self-worth.
There was never a question in my mind on how it would all end because I’d read a biography on him before and knew of his multiple wives. So it was a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I read it more to see it all unfold from a new angle. The writing was beautiful and even though I don't see myself in Hadley, I still felt connected to her.
I don’t think this one is for everyone, but if you liked A Moveable Feast, you should definitely read this. If you haven’t, you should read that first. Also, if you like that book or this one, check out Woody Allen’s latest movie, Midnight in Paris. It’s so much fun.
“We clung hard to each other, making vows we couldn’t keep and should never have spoken aloud. That’s how love is sometimes.”
“To marry was to say you believed in the future and in the past, too—that history and tradition and hope could stay knit together to hold you up.”