About the book
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain was published by Virago on 5th January 2012 and the book is 400 pages long.
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness--until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group--the fabled "Lost Generation"--that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage--a deception that will lead to the unravelling of everything they've fought so hard for.
What I thought
Having a massive thing about books set in Paris or about Paris, when I saw this one at the train station I just knew I had to have it although having not heard of it before so I didn't know quite what to expect.
The Paris Wife is pretty much a fictionalised retelling of Hemingway's life with his first wife, Hadley. The book begins in Chicago in the '20s where the couple meet and is told from Hadley's perspective. She was a strange character to me to begin with as her personality is a bit mixed. Although she comes across as strong and independent, due to things happening beforehand, she also seems very timid and not altogether sure of herself. Meeting Hemingway brings out a different side to her and I saw her character change really quickly. As the book goes on, she changes more and more, becomes quite the doormat. I think her backbone went missing somewhere in-between Chicago and Paris.
Obviously, as a book about Hemingway's first wife, he does feature a lot throughout the book. I'm not altogether sure whether or not this was the author's intent but I actually quite hated him. Yes, he was nice to begin with in the relationship but it didn't take long for me to see him for the arse of a man that he was. In this depiction of their life, Hemingway is rude, insensitive and extremely selfish. While these traits were written exceptionally, deep down I was hoping for him to have some nice qualities hidden in there somewhere but that just didn't happen.
I'll be honest and admit that I did only really get this book because of the title and I was disappointed when I realised how much of the book is not set in Paris. It takes a long time for Hadley and Ernest to make the move but once they did, it was quite something. McLain is obviously passionate about Paris herself and puts a lot of effort and detail into describing the city which was something I was extremely thankful for. Paris is a big a part of the story at certain points as the characters themselves and it was wonderful to see it intertwined with the plot so well.
The plot moves effortlessly over the life of Hadley and Ernest with the addition of some wonderful characters that break up the monotony of their boring life together. Characters like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound make the story a lot more interesting than if it had been solely about the Hemmingway's. Each of these fantastic characters make the book a lot more interesting and exciting and throw in some much needed distractions from what would have been quite a plain and boring story otherwise. It was great to see other writers interact with Hemingway and to see how they all saw each other and what they may have thought of each other's works.
While I did really enjoy this book, I don't think it is for everyone. I loved reading about different parts of the world and people from the past but I wanted to slap both Hadley and Ernest for making such stupid decision and for being such annoying people. The Paris Wife is a bit of a mixed bag for me overall.