The Paris Wife by Paula McClain *Review*

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.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 unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

I had heard good reviews of this book and it was on Book Movements Top 10 Book Club Picks at the time I picked it up so I was really excited to wrap my hands around it.  Even the reviews on the back cover were glowing:
“Impossible to resist…” People Magazine
“…a moving portrait…” The Boston Globe
And even after reading it I wouldn’t say I totally disagree with any of them except
“…making the macho Hemingway of myth a complex and sympathetic figure.” USA Today
Sympathetic?  Hell no!  From the very beginning I felt Ernest was a self-absorbed, egotistical coward.  He drags Hayden across the sea to Paris, leaves her alone most of the day while writing alone in his apartment, seeks out praise for himself like other people gulp in air after  a long dive and can’t face criticism  when given it.  He alienates his friends and mentors for a more bohemian crowd that thinks he hung the moon, and pouts when he finds out Hayden’s pregnant because it doesn’t fit into his plans.
I was frustrated  with Hayden the entire time because I felt she gave up too much of herself to satisfy his ego.  Towards the end when their marriage started to unravel she was not whole enough to even try to fight for this man she loved so much.
The book was not a total loss.  I thought it was very well written and would indeed make for a good discussion at a book club.  I could see our book club being very passionate about this read.  3/5 stars

2 responses to “The Paris Wife by Paula McClain *Review*

  1. Love your honest review! Would have probably felt the same way about him too. While I can certainly understand how passion can drive a person, not being able to share it with a life partner is sad indeed.

  2. It is very sad Laura and I wonder if he realized that later in his life. Thanks for popping by to visit!

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