The Paris Wife

Friday, December 30, 2011

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.”


Kristi said...

This seems like it would be an interesting read. I do like what I have read by Hemingway, but I don't know much about his personal life. I can imagine that it would be difficult to live in the shadow of someone who is deemed so brilliant. I'm sure she had her own talents, but I can imagine how intimidating it would be spending time that group of individuals. I'm glad you enjoyed it. A Moveable Feast is on my TBR list so I'll have to add this one to go along with it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

The only thing about Hemingway that appeals to me is the Florida lifestyle and his cats! I want a five-toe cat. I get really annoyed at the authors that thought themselves quirky geniuses that could get away with bad behavior. I DO however like the literary trend of telling the point of view of the woman who supported these narcissists.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristi - I think it would mean more if you read A Moveable Feast first. Plus, I love that book.

Sandy - I've always had a problem with Heminway's personal life and his portrayal of women in books. Yet for some reason he's kinda fascinating.

BookQuoter said...

Glad you like this because I just picked it up from our library for a dollar!! Worth keeping then.

Care said...

I couldn't finish this book. Hadley drove me nuts. i wanted to slap her. And I blamed the writing of her character. maybe I was just in a verybadmood when I attempted this since so many people seem to like this one!

Ann Summerville said...

I haven't read any of his books. I must admit the decision was probably because of his personal life.

Bybee said...

I'm under the impression that Hadley was able to have a nice life once she was shed of Hemingway.

Heather said...

I'm not crazy about Hemingway's writing either, but his life WAS rather fascinating! I've been wondering about this book, I may have to check it out!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

BookQuoter - A dollar! Jackpot.

Care - Ha, I read your review when I was in the middle of this one. I definitely understood the complaint of Hadley seeming whiny. Your review cracked me up.

Cozy in Texas - If you read only one, it should be A Moveable Feast.

Bybee - I believe she did. This mainly covers just her life with him, but she remarried and it seems like they were happy.

Heather - It's worth a read if you already find him fascinating. It's not that it shines a great light on him, but it is interesting.