The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I absolutely loved this book. Although the story opens and spends some time in the US Midwest, the bulk of the story is set is 1920s post-war Paris. The author does an excellent job of rendering the setting in such a way that the magic of both the city and the era come alive. The Paris Wife tells the story of how Elizabeth Hadley Richardson (who goes by Hadley) meets, marries, loves, and ultimately leaves Ernest Hemingway. The book offers a fascinating glimpse into the sensibilities of the times, as well as the larger-than-life personalities, like Gertrude Stein and the Fitzgeralds, that inhabited that time and place.
Hadley and Ernest’s genuine love for each other comes through in the details the author shares about the years they spent together, years in which Ernest struggles with his art while trying to make a living as a journalist. Hadley is the ever-supportive and encouraging wife who appreciates Ernest’s work but never manages to truly understand it or what drives him to write.
Like so many other artists, Hemingway’s marriage suffers as his fame and reputation grow. Although I knew the marriage was doomed, I couldn’t help but root for the two to stay together. When her friend Pauline becomes Ernest’s mistress, Hadley tries to share her marriage with the other woman, but ultimately finds she can’t and the marriage is over. It’s hard to understand why any woman would consider such an arrangement, but Hadley truly loved Ernest. Also, times were different for women in the 1920s and the fact that many of the couples they regularly socialized with had a similar arrangement must have made it seem somewhat normal to Hadley. She certainly exhibited much more patience and grace with her former friend Pauline than I ever could have.
The author’s writing style invoked a true sense of the time and made feel me as if I was there. At the end of the book, I felt that I had a much better understanding of Ernest Hemingway as a person. I wondered whether he might have been happier if he had never achieved fame. The book has also inspired me to add A Moveable Feast to my to-read list.
Any book that I can’t put down is a good read. A historical fiction book that I can’t put down even though I already know how things end is a 5-star good read.