I have been pushing and pushing myself to finish The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain and anxiously awaiting the moment where I could sit down and write this review. I was so ready to write it because I loved it so much, but as I said, it took me a while to finish it, something I will definitely take into account in my review.
I’ll start with the good news.
This book felt like a classic. In fact, I sorted it with the other classics on my bookshelf. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t know where else to put it. It is about Hemingway, after all.
The book is written from the point of view of Hemingway’s wife. Wife?! You say? You thought he had many women in his life? Well, you would be right. It’s widely known that Hemingway was wild with women, and this book focuses on his first wife, his *spoiler* Paris Wife.
The infamous Paris Wife’s name is Hadley Richardson, a plain and even downtrodden girl from an unhealthy home. She meets Ernest in Chicago, with whom–against her friend’s advice–she becomes romantically involved, entranced by his zeal for life. As the title suggests, they marry and move to Paris, a bold move but a fitting one for Ernest’s career. It’s where the action takes place, as he says. Then begins the majority of the story, a tale of the so called “Lost Generation,” but focusing less on their achievements and getting more to the grit of the matter; their lives were messy, and they pretended they were okay with it, but none of them really were.
In the end, Hemingway cheats on Hadley. He becomes so sucked up in the lifestyle of the other artists and tries so hard to like it, but he never can. He is never satisfied. Not with Hadley and not with any of his other wives.
I feel sorry for the women who fall in love with him, and for Hadley in particular. She’s a doll. We love her. We are on her side. We feel for her. She’s just your average girl, and we relate to her because of that. She is the protagonist, after all, so… ‘nough said. And she doesn’t deserve the way Ernest treats her. He changes. She doesn’t. They clash and he cheats. Many people know this story and many have lived it themselves. It’s a rotten one, but I don’t even think that’s the saddest part of the story.
While Ernest is in no way the victim of this story, it’s sad to think that he was never happy. Never truly content. Not throughout his entire life. Maybe you all don’t think it’s as sad as me, but imagine if it were you. Why wasn’t he content? Call him pathetic or what you will, and I’m sure there’s some deep psychological reason, but whatever it is, it’s still sad.
Though Ernest’s personal life is frankly depressing, I loved watching Ernest’s writing career come to fruition. As a writer, particularly one who hasn’t had her big break, it’s special to watch that happen to someone else, and to Hemingway nonetheless! It was also really encouraging. He definitely has his hard times, but he keeps at it, and as I’ve always said, that’s the key. That’s what I’m going with, at least.
I loved reading about the friendships they formed. I find the twenties so fascinating. Post-WWI. Pre-WWII. The Lost Generation. Fitzgerald. Stein. All of it. I adore it. We know of these people but we never really hear about their lives, hence the nickname, but we finally saw their lives, the good and the bad.
Then there’s the writing, and let me tell you I’m a complete fan of Paula Mclain’s style. Reading felt so easy and I enjoyed her descriptions and her casual yet sophisticated style. It’s simply brilliant, and it’s the real reason I think this book will be a classic. It felt like I was reading an older book but it also felt new; it’s a refreshing mixture.
Now that I’ve talked it up, I’m going to address my earlier comment. I had to push really hard to finish it. There are about 75 pages where I almost lost interest. The story moved at a near glacial pace and I felt like the author was beating a dead horse. This section is at the downfall of Hadley and Ernest’s relationship, and Mclain details every step. It dragged on, and it felt unnecessary. However, a part of me wonders if this was intentional. It is entirely possible that Mclain wanted us to feel what Hadley felt: tired. If so, she accomplished her goal.
I probably make it sound worse than it was. It was hard to finish because it was slow, but at the same time I enjoyed it. What carried me through was the writing and a will to finish.
Overall, the book was amazing and I give it a 4.2 out of 5 stars. Definitely worth the read. Definitely worth owning. Just know that if you feel stuck, it’s worth finishing.