Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

17 Sep

I’m flying through books, trying to meet my Reading Challenge goal of 70 books this year!  I’m currently at 51, 2% ahead of schedule.  This one was an audiobook and not my favorite one at that.  Read on for a review, but be forewarned of spoilers!

The Paris Wife by Paul McLain

I love historical fiction and I love the 1920s so The Paris Wife seemed like an obvious choice.  It was a recommendation of of my book calendar (I’m telling you, that thing is killing me slowly).  McLain’s story is about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.  If you’re not familiar with Hemingway’s personal life, he is considered to be something like the jock of the writing world.  He was a womanizer who love big game hunting and bullfighting.  I love his no-frills writing and that he writs about Michigan, something I hold dear to my heart.

Hadley doesn’t think much of herself as she reaches her late twenties and has been turned down by the one man she loved.  When she meets a young man named Ernest Hemingway, she’s swept off her feet, despite the warnings of her good friends.  The two marry and soon enough are off to Paris to pursue the writing scene that Ernest feels he has to involve himself in to be the writer he wants to be.  The life in Paris is like nothing Hadley’s ever experienced before.  There are homosexuals, polygamists and of course more alcohol than she knows what to do with.  They begin a wild life and parties, vacations, friends, and love.

As I’ve already discussed with my friends on Facebook, this book seemed to fall flat to me.  Hadley was not a very likeable protagonist from the beginning and never grew on me.  She was foolish in a lot of her daily decisions and seemed overall weak.  What was most memorable to me was the picture painted of Hemingway.  He started off very likable, but when his first stories got good reviews, he stepped on the people who helped give him a shot.  He was unappreciative of all he was given, including Hadley’s love.

I know that some of my frustrations with Hadley come from a difference of almost 100 years, such as her letting the maid raise her child and the focus on wealth and the desire to be so rich that life is a game.  It’s hard for me to relate to this.  I try to focus on the main themes of the novel: devotion, love, and the complications of friendships.

Hadley’s love for Hemingway is undying, as she admits late in the book.  He can offend her good friends, his own mother, even herself, and Hadley will love him and stay devoted to him.  She lets this take control of her toward the end and it’s somewhat sad to see her fall apart.  Throughout much of the novel the two are so strong that when they tell friends that they’re splitting, many are in complete shock that such a solid couple could stumble.  The ups and downs of the friendships in the novel are a very curious thing.  I can’t think of a single character that remained friends with the Hemingways for the whole novel (though I wish F. Scott Fitzgerald had, he was a great character!).  Friends come into your life for a season and a reason before they leave.

The reader can probably tell I wasn’t a big fan of the book and wouldn’t recommend it.  I had The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin next on my list, but in light of this book, I’m going to take a break and put that on the backburner.  I will say that I really want to read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises now that I’ve finished The Paris Wife.  If it’s the mix of bare boned prose and bull fighting that I’m anticipating, it will be amazing.

One of the themes that McLain beautifully explored was infidelity, which I’ve never seen done so believably before.  Many books will have one character turned suddenly cold or hateful, but McLain has Hadley and Ernest ride out their separation slowly and painfully, the way a couple would.  The ending was very touching and for sure my favorite part of the book.

Overall, I thought it dragged too much in the middle and the ending went by almost too quickly.  The Fitzgeralds were my favorite characters and I loved the historical accuracy of the piece.  The Lost Generation is so often talked of in terms of their writing and not written about so this was refreshing.

Writer’s Takeaways: I think the first person point of view worked well in this case.  Without it, the piece would sound too much like a history without the fiction.  Being inside Hadley’s mind helped me feel that this was as much a story McLain made up on the spot as it was well-researched.  As someone who hopes to write more historical fiction going forward, this is very worthy of note.  As I said before, I think it dragged a bit in the middle and there could have been a bit more ‘fat cutting’ to bring the piece to more bare bones as Hemingway would have done.  But perhaps not doing so is ironic.  Hm.

Two out of five stars.

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3 Responses to “Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Recently Added to my To-Read Shelf | Taking on a World of Words - October 3, 2013

    […] Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.   I added this after finishing Paula McClain’s book The Paris Wife.  The book sparked my curiosity in Hemingway which I had lost since high school.  I was a big fan […]

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  2. Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin | Taking on a World of Words - December 10, 2013

    […] it eventually. Well, it’s eventually. I almost read this sooner, but I’d just finished The Paris Wife and I needed a change of pace. I listened to this title on audiobook from the local […]

    Like

  3. Goodreads Challenge: Complete! | Taking on a World of Words - December 20, 2013

    […] The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (2) […]

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