The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Title: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2011
Source: Personal Copy

First off, dear person in the seat next to me, did you have to choose this open seat out of all the other open seats on the bus? I now have to awkwardly squeeze my elbows in while I type to keep from awakening you from your post-workday commute slumber.

Anyway, this is the story of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway's life together, told from Hadley's point of view. I have not yet read A Moveable Feast, but I am guessing it follows many of the events. It starts when Hadley meets Ernest and ends when he takes his own life, years after their marriage disintegrated.

I was feeling rather excited for this book, I'll admit, for a few reasons. Firstly, it takes place in Paris, an obvious factor for anyone who knows me well. Secondly, I love "Lost Generation" writers (Fitzgerald is a favorite) and I've been reading a bit more Hemingway this year, so I was excited to learn more of his life story, even though it was fictionalized. This was further intensified by seeing the movie Midnight in Paris (in which no mention of Hadley was made). I had heard rave reviews from people I respect (non-book bloggers, which sometimes makes it sound even better to me - normal people like it, not just book-obsessed ones!). Maybe I hyped it to myself a little too much. Because while I liked it, it was by no means a stellar read for me.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed learning about Hadley and Hemingway's life. I enjoyed reading about Paris. I even enjoyed the writing, although at times it seemed to be too blatantly imitating Hemingway, which seemed a little gimmicky. Granted, I have never read other writings by Paula McLain - she may write like that all the time. However, the book lacked that essential spark, that moving quality that turns it into a "book-hugger." I felt like Hadley was telling me a long, detailed story about her life. I heard all about it, but it wasn't shown to me. I wanted to experience the story, not just hear about it. The instances that did spark emotion in me were mostly negative, reading about so many marriages dissolving. I have to rant about something, but don't want to spoiler-it for you, so highlight if you want to read. I was also so appalled that, firstly, Pauline went after Hemingway and secondly, that Hadley went along with it for so long. I cannot imagine any circumstance where that would be acceptable. I know that it was "the thing" in Paris among their friends, but to me it was just a sign of how completely Hadley had lost her identity to Hemingway's. Okay, for those of you tuning in post-spoiler, I just wrote something about how Hadley sacrifices her identity to Hemingway's ideals. I think this also was why I didn't fully identify with the story. Now, I don't consider myself a person that has to assert my desires and personality over all others. I am willing to make concessions, to give up some things that I want and maybe even some things that are important to me, for the good of another person. Part of the reason I changed my post-graduation plans to nursing was so that my husband could go to dental school and I could work less when I want to have children. However, it was hard to read about a person who stepped on her own desires and emotions over and over again out of the fear of her husband leaving her, diminishing in her personality until he was no longer attracted to her, even though he knew their relationship was very beneficial to him.

Im afraid that now I've come off sounding as if I hated the book, which isn't true at all. I didn't hate the book. I just didn't love it or really identify with it. I enjoyed the trip into the era of many of my favorite writers and learned a few things. I even highlighted a few lovely passages. However, my overall experience was lukewarm.

3 stars


  1. Oooh, this sounds really good though. I didn't know it was about Hemingway!

  2. Hmm. I'm torn. I love this idea but I don't want to not love the book.

    Though my current To Read list is fifty miles long, so maybe it'll wait a while anyway.

  3. I had a similar reaction to the book. A Moveable Feast is the only Hemingway book I can stomach and I was interested in reading it from his wife's point of view, albeit a fictional one. I did love the evocative feel of Paris at the time, but mostly this book just served to reinforce in my mind what a little shit I think Hemingway was as a person. If ever an American writer could have benefitted from drugs & therapy, he's one!

  4. Okay, how's this for coincidence, in my design class we're redoing book covers and one of the girls chose to do The Paris Wife. I really enjoyed her discussion of the book and why she wants to redesign the cover, so between that and your review I think I'm officially sold.

  5. I'm definitely intrigued by this book. I have read a lot of positive reviews about it. I just feel like I wouldn't really appreciate it very much at this point in my life: I haven't read much Hemmingway and I haven't been to Paris. Still, it is on my TBR list and I'm sure I will pick it up someday.

  6. @Jillian - That ended up being my favorite part of it - I am liking Hemingway more all the time.

    @A Mitton - A lot of people really loved this book - the style just didn't work for me. It wasn't even that it was poorly written, because it wasn't - the writing was good. It just didn't mesh with me for some reason. You might still like it. And that is so funny that your classmate ended up choosing that cover. I loved your Wrinkle in Time one, by the way.

    @Jennifer - I've actually only read two books by Hemingway but I still love him. It's a decent book - not my favorite, but certainly not bad.


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