40. The Paris Wife

Book Club, Book Reviews / Sunday, October 21st, 2012

I finally finished the second book of the year for my book club, The Paris Wife.  Frankly, I’m not really sure about this book.  At the end, it left me wondering what Paula McLain was really trying to tell me.  I’m sure she must have a secret crush on Hemingway.  The Paris Wife is a fictional biography recounting Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson.  The story is based in Paris during the 20s, which was the period of innovation in the arts, not to mention Paris was the city of the “Lost Generation”.  The Lost Generation was a phrase coined by Gertrude Stein to describe the upcoming generation that developed out of World War I.  Many writers and artists came from the United States,  the United Kingdom, and Canada to settle in Paris where they led bohemian lifestyles, carried on open affairs, lesbian relationships, while partying hard and drinking absinthe, Pernod and whatever else, but of course all while writing some of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century.  “All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…. You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” – Gertrude Stein.

Will Ernest’s and Hadley’s young, new love withstand this hostile environment?  Of course not.  You won’t be reading The Paris Wife to find out how it ends.  You already know how it ends.  What you want to know is how do they get to the end.  Here’s the point where I feel Paula McLain goes wrong.  I really would have preferred she had the courage to write a biography.  I’m sure the fictional biography was written to appeal to the masses, but you can’t help wondering what is real and what is her personal interjection into the story.  She does cite a list of works in her note on sources at the end of the book, but doubt persists, especially when reading the dialogues.  Besides, the end of the novel precisely the last three pages seemed unnecessary to me.  Why would she add them?  The book is called The Paris Wife.  She should have found a way to end it on a Hadley note.  The last thing that bothered me was the cover.  I don’t understand why they have extremely well dressed women on them writing or having coffee.  It doesn’t represent at all the way Hadley is described.  Is this woman supposed to be someone else?  Maybe Pauline?

In the end, I gave this novel two stars on Goodreads.  I changed it from three.  I just felt that the story wasn’t told in an interesting enough way.  Some parts are slow and I would have liked to hear more details about the popular bars and cabarets they went to.  Even though, I thoroughly enjoyed Paula McLain’s exceptional writing style.  It flows and is full of that nostalgic 1920s flair needed for the telling of this melancholy fictional biography.  I haven’t heard much about Paula McLain but she has written poetry, a novel called A Ticket to Ride, and a memoir called Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, which is about the fourteen years she and her two sisters spent as foster children in Fresno County, California.  Check out the video below which has some great old pictures of young Hemingway, Hadley and Pauline, as well as some clear explanations of McLain’s thought process in writing The Paris Wife.  If anything this book has made me want to check out A Moveable Feast, which has always been on my TBR list.  I’m definitely a fan of Hemingway the writer but not so much the man.

Every writer I know has trouble writing.

——-Joseph HELLER

8 Replies to “40. The Paris Wife”

  1. I actually quite liked this. I preferred the fictionalized version to a regular biography… There’s no room for feelings when you’re going full biography. Also, I always thought Hemingway was a douche, and this didn’t change my perception. At all.

    1. I agree Hemingway was a bit of a douche. Reading The Paris Wife, it was evident in her writing that Paula McLain was falling for this young Hemingway. I just have problems with fictionalized biogrphies.

  2. I’ve been a fan of Hemingway’s works since junior high school. It seems many of the greatest contributors to literature lived recklessly…as if their master works exonerated them from personal and social responsibility. I really enjoy your reviews Didi. You can only get better and better!

  3. Are you in an online book club? I’ve been thinking about it. The Paris Wife isn’t on my reading list, especially after your 2-star review. Yikes.

    1. No I started my book club here in Normandy where I live 7 years ago. I’m very much against writing fictional biographies. I don’t like subjective views on real events. In my book club it was half and half concerning who enjoyed the book. A few of the ladies found parts a bit slow. I read right through it in about 2 days. I suggest you try reading it. You may like it! It was beautifully written but not my cup of tea. If you do read it, I’d love to hear what you think of it.

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