The Paris Wife by Paula McLain


This is a novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley.  I had never read anything by Hemingway so I read The Sun Also Rises in preparation for this book.  I was not impressed.  I read this one for the Sin City Bookers book group.

The first half is not terribly exciting.  They meet, they fall in love, they get married, they move to Paris.  Hadley does not have much of a life of her own, which was presumably quite common for wives back then, although not necessarily within the arty circle that they socialised with.  Women were artists, too, and were allowed to have their own interests and personalities (and lovers).

Eventually, Ernest has to travel for work and leave Hadley behind and she gets very sore about him leaving her, because she has pretty much nothing else in her life.  He is unfaithful while he is away but she does not know.

Many famous writers and artists of the time make an appearance in the book.  Another extremely over-rated writer, F Scott Fitzgerald, staggers in and out a few times.  Gertrude Stein was a friend to the couples from when they arrived in town.

Hadley does a lot of grumbling about how little money they have, but they do go on a few nice holidays around Europe and they have a housekeeper who cooks, washes and cleans for them, and when they have a baby she also cares for the baby.  Hadley spends her days window shopping and lunching and walking through parks, then gets steaming drunk with Ernest and his pals in the evenings.

This book tells the story behind the story in The Sun Also Rises, which I found very interesting.  Mr and Mrs Hemingway go to Spain to watch bullfighting several times with their friends who quite clearly become characters in the book.  Hadley becomes very jealous of the real-life woman who inspires the main female character in the book, and she realises that she does not feature in the book at all.  This must have been quite an unpleasant shock.  It seems to me that Hemingway had a pretty poor imagination to write a (rather dull) novel about the adventures him and his pals had on holiday, and I wonder what sort of man writes his own wife out of a story.

Ernest begins an affair with a friend of Hadley’s.  He attempts for a while to have the four of them (child included) all live together happily ever after, but that doesn’t work for Hadley so she issues an ultimatum.  They get divorced and he marries the other woman.  She is wife number two of what will eventually become four.  I felt sad for Hadley, but as she says; “people belong to each other only as long as they both believe.”  You can fight for a marriage, but if one party has fallen out of love then there is little the other party can do.  She meets another man and marries him, and I am quite sure she is better off without Hemingway, he sounds like an utter shit.

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3 Responses to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

  1. Book Blather says:

    So glad I don’t have to read this book now, because honestly it sounds a bit boring. 🙂 And slightly depressing. At least she finds a decent replacement for Hemingway…

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