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The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Paula McLain

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3,2962681,657 (3.7)273
Title:The Paris Wife: A Novel
Authors:Paula McLain
Info:Ballantine Books (2011), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

  1. 80
    A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (alanteder, codehooligans)
  2. 20
    The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (kiwiflowa)
  3. 43
    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (voracious)
    voracious: A female perspective of a similar time period with a romantic, optimistic point of view. Similar as it describes the joy of love and finding the perfect words.
  4. 00
    Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler (shearon)
  5. 00
    Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (KayCliff)
  6. 00
    Alabama Song by Gilles Leroy (Cecilturtle)
  7. 00
    Hadley by Gioia Diliberto (alanteder)
  8. 00
    The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull (heatherlove)
    heatherlove: Set in the same era but Garden on Sunset is set in Hollywood instead of Paris, like The Paris Wife.
  9. 00
    F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon by Robert Sklar (KayCliff)

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Showing 1-5 of 269 (next | show all)
I wouldn't call this fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's early career and marriage any great work of literature, but it was an interesting and easy read.

The Lost Generation makes for a fascinating subject, all the more intriguing for its being true--which is sometimes hard to believe. Nevermind the traveling all over the world partying hard on practically no money, there was the marriage itself--the center of the plot. At first I was just irritated with Hemingway, characterized (probably faithfully) as the brand of pig-headedness, selfishness, and insanity that is typical of artistic genius. But when the affair arrives, as it must, Hadley drove me just as crazy.

I guess maybe it was "the times" or whatever, but sorry, I can't buy it--that Hadley would remain friends with the other woman, that the three would travel together after the affair came to light, that she would just lay there in the same bed as her husband slept with his mistress.
I'm not referring to the truthfulness of those events, but the literary believability. In other words, it might be historically accurate that Hadley didn't slap a bitch, but McLain didn't give a compelling enough character justification for me. In fact, even in the epilogue (my least favorite kind..long, expositional narrative) it becomes clear that Hadley is entirely defined by Ernest, even 35 years after a four year marriage. By asserting that she and Ernest know she's more than just "the Paris wife," she proves that in fact, she isn't.

For a book whose sole purpose is to flesh out a marginal historical figure, the reader gets a Hadley with surprisingly little sense of self. ( )
  mermaidatheart | Dec 1, 2015 |
Hadley Richardson meets and falls in love with a young Ernest Hemingway, eventually marrying the aspiring author and moving with him to Paris during the 1920s.

This book seemed like something made specifically for me with a bunch of my favorite things - historical fiction, Paris, Ernest Hemingway, etc. However, it was severely disappointing. Quite frankly, I was not impressed by McLain's writing style, which I found largely to be lackluster and borderline tedious. Her book is populated with flamboyant people from history (e.g., Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and is set around intense events (e.g., running of the bulls at Pamplona), yet hardly anything in the book excites interest at all, being related instead placidly through the dull eyes of our protagonist.

This is perhaps my biggest problem with the book - the character of Hadley herself. She is a co-dependent, whiny woman with no interests or friends outside of Ernest's, and the action verb most associated with her is "cried." She cries about everything that takes Ernest away for her even briefly. In possibly the most egregious example of this, Hadley locks herself in their Parisian apartment, drinking and crying herself to sleep because Ernest is on assignment. The woman is in Paris, for goodness's sake, with hundreds of things she could see or do, even for free or cheap*, but she can't manage to extradite herself from her room because her husband is travelling for work. No. I have no patience for this. Even with the limited options available to women in the past, she still had a lot more she could have done with her life than sit around crying every time Ernest is out of her sight. (*Follow-up rant: Hadley is always going on and on about how they are dirt poor, but the Hemingways are always managing to jet off to some European tourist spot for weeks on end without either of them working and yet still paying for their Parisian apartment in addition to their vacation lodgings.)

Seeing through Hadley's eyes, life is pretty boring, even in a bohemian setting during the Roaring Twenties. The first half of the book was very difficult for me to get into, given how much I had come to despise the Hadley character for her lack of anything appealing. It took me more than 2 years to finally finish this book because for that first half, I could barely read more than a couple pages at a time before my disgust and disinterest in Hadley and her dull tale would take over. After more than halfway through reading the book, momentum finally took over (that, and the lack of anything else to read while I was in between library books). This section also contained the more interesting parts of the book - those ones that mimic themes and plot points from Hemingway's own works (particularly The Sun Also Rises and Garden of Eden). Still, I wouldn't describe it as a book that you couldn't put down.

Not sure if I can emphasize enough that a good historical fiction book of this type that focuses on a real person needs to choose a subject that is or does something fascinating and then write about that subject in a compelling way. (The real Hadley may have indeed been a very interesting person who was grossly misrepresented here, in which case I feel quite bad for the poor woman.) This book just didn't have anything moving to hold my attention or allow me to recommend it. There are so many better historical fiction options out there (e.g., Loving Frank, which I can't recommend enough) or frankly, a nonfiction account of the first Mrs. Hemingway is probably equally - or perhaps even more so - interesting to read. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Oct 30, 2015 |
Good if you are familiar with Hemingway and his lifestyle. ( )
  Jodeneg | Oct 23, 2015 |
This book is a beautifully detailed portrait of a young love and marriage, corrupted by both the selfishness of a man and his mistress but also by every person, including his wife, who felt that somehow his genius, his work meant that different rules applied. As "bohemian" as those in Paris were attempting to be, Hemingway and Hadley made very traditional, formal vows and, thus, he should have been held to them. In fact, in not holding him to adult standards, they ignored a man in great need of help and they share in responsibility for his suffering and his suicide.

The Paris Wife is, of course, also the story of the beginning of a second marriage and the picture that McLain draws of Pauline, from Hadley's point of view is brilliant. Pauline is one of those limpet-women, who insinuate themselves into the company of the men to whom they wish to attach themselves, so that by the time they have their suckers in, it is she who appears to be the victim if anybody suggests she does not belong. Perhaps women like that might read a novel like this and, assuming they even see themselves in Pauline, experience a little of what they do to the women upon whose men they set their sights.

Lastly, I'd like to comment upon the declarations by many in the book, even Hadley, that "his work" was worth all the suffering he experienced and caused. Such sentiments are understandable, but I hope that they are not serious and rather an attempt to alleviate the guilt and helplessness of not being able to know what was wrong and to help him. Being bi-polar myself, when I hear "it was all worth it because he was a writer of a generation" I hear only cruel romanticism and a total lack of understanding. ( )
  Darcy-Conroy | Sep 28, 2015 |
I really enjoyed this book. The author has brought many well-known artists to life and created a vivid image of Paris during the 1920's. The reader empathises with Hadley as she provides emotional support to this fledgling author but struggles to become part of the fast set that he socializes with. This has a very authentic ring to it. Recommended. (8.5) ( )
  HelenBaker | Aug 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 269 (next | show all)
Paula McLain has built “The Paris Wife” around Hadley. Or at least she has planted Hadley in the midst of a lot of famous, ambitious people. The advantage to this technique is that it allows the reader to rub shoulders and bend elbows with celebrated literary types: the stay-at-home way of feeling like the soigné figure on the book cover. The drawback is that Ms. McLain’s Hadley, when not in big-league company that overshadows her, isn’t a subtly drawn character. She’s thick, and not just in physique. She’s slow on the uptake, and she can be a stodgy bore.
Indeed, this book is a more risky affair than its sometimes sugary surface betrays. Taking up the Hemingway story inevitably means comparisons with Papa himself, and McLain courageously draws fire by including interludes written from his perspective: hard-bitten monologues with such lines as "You might as well bring yourself down and make yourself stinking sick with all you do because this is the only world there is." It's not exactly up there with John Cheever's classic parody, but it certainly does the job.

An appealing companion volume to A Moveable Feast, then, but once it's finished, turn back to the original, with its cool, impressionistic prose. It can hardly be said that the least interesting thing about Hemingway is the way he lived his life, but let's not forget that it's his writing that endures.
An imaginative, elegantly written look inside the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reviews (Jan 15, 2011)
Colorful details of the expat life in Jazz Age Paris, combined with the evocative story of the Hemingways' romance, result in a compelling story that will undoubtedly establish McLain as a writer of substance. Highly recommended for all readers of popular fiction.
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Susanne Wells (Nov 15, 2010)
The Paris Wife, McLain has taken their love story, partially told by Hemingway himself in A Moveable Feast, and fashioned a novel that's impossible to resist. It's all here, and it all feels real...
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It is not what France gave you but what it did not take from you that was important. -Gertrude Stein
There's no one thing that's true. It's all true. -Ernest Hemingway
First words
Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris.
He wanted everything there was to have, and more than that.
We had the best of each other.
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Book description
History is sadly neglectful of the supporting players in the lives of great artists. Fortunately, fiction provides ample opportunity to bring these often fascinating personalities out into the limelight. Gaynor Arnold successfully resurrected the much-maligned Mrs. Charles Dickens in Girl in a Blue Dress (2009), now Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband. Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. Hadley and Ernest traveled in heady company during this gin-soaked and jazz-infused time, and readers are treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the real star of the story is Hadley, as this time around, Ernest is firmly relegated to the background as he almost never was during their years together. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that "Hem" had "helped me to see what I really was and what I could do." Much more than a "woman-behind-the-man" homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled. amazon com
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345521307, Hardcover)

Author Paula McLain on The Paris Wife
Most of us know or think we know who Ernest Hemingway was -- a brilliant writer full of macho swagger, driven to take on huge feats of bravery and a pitcher or two of martinis -- before lunch. But beneath this man or myth, or some combination of the two, is another Hemingway, one we’ve never seen before. Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, is the perfect person to reveal him to us -- and also to immerse us in the incredibly exciting and volatile world of Jazz-age Paris.

The idea to write in Hadley’s voice came to me as I was reading Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, about his early years in Paris. In the final pages, he writes of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” That line, and his portrayal of their marriage -- so tender and poignant and steeped in regret -- inspired me to search out biographies of Hadley, and then to research their brief and intense courtship and letters -- they wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of delicious pages to another!

I couldn’t help but fall in love with Hadley, and through her eyes, with the young Ernest Hemingway. He was just twenty when they met, handsome and magnetic, passionate and sensitive and full of dreams. I was surprised at how much I liked and admired him -- and before I knew it, I was entirely swept away by their gripping love story.

I hope you will be as captivated by this remarkable couple as I am -- and by the fascinating world of Paris in the 20’s, the fast-living, ardent and tremendously driven Lost Generation.

A Look Inside The Paris Wife

Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, Chamby, Switzerland, winter 1922
Ernest and Hadley Hemingway on their wedding day, 1921
Ernest, Hadley, and Bumby, Schruns, Austria, 1925

The Hemingways and friends at a cafe in Pamplona, Spain
Guest Reviewer: Helen Simonson on The Paris Wife

Helen Simonson is the New York Times bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. She was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the London School of Economics and former travel advertising executive, she has lived in America for the past two decades. After many years in Brooklyn, she now lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, D.C., area.

Paula McLain has taken on the task of writing a story most of us probably think we already know--that of a doomed starter wife. To make life more difficult, McLain proposes to tell us about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, who is a twenty-eight-year-old Midwestern spinster when she marries the twenty-one-year-old unpublished, (but already cocksure) writer and runs off to Paris with him. The talent and joy of this novel is that McLain does a startling job of making us understand this as a great love story and seducing us into caring deeply, about both Ernest and Hadley, as their marriage eventually comes apart.

This novel moves beyond the dry bones of biography or skewed personal vision of memoir, and takes a leap into the emotional lives of these characters. It is a leap of faith for those readers who think they know Hemingway, but McLain’s voice sticks close enough to historical material, and to the words and tone of Hemingway’s own writing, to be convincing. She had me at the description of young Hadley’s father committing suicide.

“The carpets had been cleaned but not changed out for new, the revolver had been emptied and polished and placed back in his desk.”

Hadley is also crippled by a childhood fall and trapped into spinsterhood by her mother’s declining health and eventual death. By the time she meets Hemingway, we are rooting for her to make a break for foreign shores--even as we understand the danger of marrying a tempestuous man. Hemingway is all nervous purpose, ambition and charisma as he meets Hadley and is drawn to her quiet strength and ordinary American sweetness. In his youth and uncertainty, she is his rock and yet we already suspect that as he grows in artistic power, she will become an unwanted anchor. Through Hadley’s eyes and plain-speaking voice, we see all of twenties Paris and the larger-than-life artists who gather in the cafes. We drink tea with Gertrude Stein and champagne with Fitzgerald and Zelda. We run with the bulls in Pamplona and spend winters in alpine chalets. And we see, through her love for him, the young writer becoming the Hemingway of legend. Perhaps it is the nature of all great artists to be completely selfish and obnoxious, but Hadley’s voice is always one of compassion. Even as Hemingway leaves her completely out of The Sun also Rises, even as Hemingway publicly flirts with other women, she continues to explain and defend him. It is a testament to Paula McLain that the reader is slow to dislike Hemingway, even as he slowly and inexorably betrays Hadley’s trust.

I loved this novel for its depiction of two passionate, yet humanly-flawed people struggling against impossible odds--poverty, artistic fervor, destructive friendships--to cling on to each other. I raise a toast to Paula McLain’s sure talent.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:20 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Hadley is intrigued by brash "beautiful boy" Ernest Hemingway, and after a brief courtship and small wedding, they take off for Paris, where Hadley makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband's career.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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