For my birthday, I purchased “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. I had read a sample on my Kindle and enjoyed it — actually I had enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I am so thrilled that I bought this book as I found it both compelling and memorable.
“The Paris Wife” tells the story of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, and their time together in Paris when Ernest was struggling to get his writing career off the ground. Please note – the following contains many SPOILERS!
Hadley and Ernest’s relationship starts off with a bit of a bang, when she meets him at a friend’s home and the two of them fall quickly for each other. Hadley, a quiet young woman several years Ernest’s senior, has few prospects in her current life, and is living off a modest trust fund and staying with her sister’s family. Ernest enchants her and makes her feel special and desired. Their relationship is shown in such intimate details – primarily through Hadley’s eyes – that you feel almost as if you are a voyeur. Hadley holds great devotion for Ernest, and while he does love her, one realizes that Ernest’s greatest desire is to meet his own needs to actualize his own genius. Hadley’s own personality is almost entirely eclipsed by Ernest’s and her needs are subsumed by his. The backdrop of their relationship is the post WWI years in Europe, as they travel with a famous and bohemian crowd (including such greats as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald). Hadley and Ernest spend time in Paris and then travel throughout the year to Spain and southern France as Ernest gathers ideas and impetus for his writing. In time, their son Bumby is born, but it is a change to their marriage that Hadley welcomes and Ernest does not.
Hadley was a character that I related to and had empathy for. She never truly fit with Ernest’s author/artist friends as she was conventional in nature. She did truly love him, though, and his betrayal of her was incredibly painful to witness. As Ernest grew to love Hadley’s best friend, she tried to first save her marriage, and then to accept Pauline as her partner with Ernest, but in the end Hadley chose to release Ernest. I wondered if Hadley felt she was letting him go, or realizing that she never truly held him in the first place.
McLain’s writing style was lovely to read. Her prose is beautiful and evocative and the settings are portrayed vividly. Hadley’s emotions and thoughts are portrayed in a way that lets us understand her. I love a book that keeps me thinking about the characters long after I read it, and this is one of those books.