Paula McLain’s “The Paris Wife” tells the story of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway: their whirlwind courtship, marriage, and eventual divorce in the mid-1920s. Hadley is what some of her time would consider a spinster; she’s 28, lives with her sister and brother-in-law, and spends her time practicing the piano and having a few uninspiring beaux. That is till she begins visiting her childhood friend Kate for the summers and is introduced to a young Ernest Hemingway. Ernest is a handsome, vibrant young soldier just back from the horrors of World War I. The pair fall in love and after a short time are married. Ernest’s desire to begin his career as a writer takes the couple to Paris, where they will meet and mingle with some of the most famous literary minds of their generation – Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is in Paris and on trips throughout Europe that Ernest gets the ideas for “The Sun Also Rises.” Though the novel receives enthusiastic reviews, the Hemingways must deal with the trials of a young marriage, parenthood, and finally getting what they’ve always wanted.
It may surprise people to know that though I earned my BA in English and consider myself an avid reader, I cannot recollect ever having read a single Hemingway piece. I wouldn’t swear to it – I may have come across a short story here and there, perhaps during my junior year in high school when English covered American literature – but I may as well not have, since I don’t remember anything. I have always been afraid to read Hemingway; for some reason he’s been lumped for ages in my head with Faulkner, whose writing I cannot stomach. Reading “The Paris Wife” (though fictional) has made me more interested in his writing – it made me realize that perhaps Hemingway isn’t so bad after all (as a writer) and perhaps I should give him a try.
My late-blooming interest in Hemingway really isn’t that interesting to someone wanting to know the merits of this novel about his first wife, so I’ll get going on that pronto! I really enjoyed this book. I usually like historical fiction, so it’s not that surprising I feel this way. History was my second favorite subject in school, so combining it with literature is a big bonus for me. The descriptions of Hadley and Ernest’s life in Jazz Age Paris are so vivid; they begin in Montparnesse and live above a dance hall, listening to accordion music into the wee hours of the morning. Trips to Spain for bullfighting and Switzerland for Alpine skiing really jump out of the text. The story is slow to start at first, but once it got going I found it difficult to put down.