The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres of books to read. The Paris Wife I admit is not an area of this particular genre that I would have necessarily picked up to read and I was apprehensive as I embarked on this book, because from my own ignorance I knew very little about Ernest Hemingway, let alone his wife.

The Paris Wife is about Hadley Richardson, the first Mrs Hemingway.

It is the 1920s, prohibition in Chicago is in full swing and a twenty-eight year old woman who thought she was destined to spend a life alone finds herself in love with a man full of energy, many layers and with love to give her in return. That man is Ernest Hemingway, the woman Hadley Richardson.

Paula McLain, takes these characters, those they interact with, the events and the places and gives them a voice, she gives them her imagination and tries to make sense of a growing writer and a rather nervous woman who is trying to hold onto her man, as he is tempted into another life.

Moving to Paris, influences Ernest as he interacts with people more of ‘his liking’ and ‘his thinking’. This bohemian way of living so vividly described was the beginning of the end for Hadley and Ernest. How could they ever come back from these influences? Hadley was unable to hold onto her man, and had to live through the embarrassment of his affair seeming right under her nose and in her bed.

The voice McLain gives the most to is of course Hadley, and this book very much reads as if it was Hadley’s memoir reflecting back much later in life, recalling her time with Ernest, with asides in the writing as to what she knows subsequently happens to him.

Many reviews, say there are much better books about this era and these people and maybe there are. However, as someone coming to the book knowing very little as I did then this book is an excellent starting point for further reading about Hemingway and his women.

Read more I certainly have and I felt rather ignorant that all I knew about Hemingway was the title of two books – For Whom The Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms. I had no idea there was more than one wife, I had no idea he was influenced by the likes of Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, Fitzgerald to name a few. 

I learnt much about his own family,and the trait of suicide which seemed to rather prevalent and also with Hadley’s father as well. It made for very sad reading. 

Of course through this ignorance I have never read any of his work. I’m not sure that I would enjoy it, but certainly from what little I have read about him and his life, I can see why he was a most influential writer and man of literature in the twentieth century.