After watching Midnight in Paris, I found myself on a nostalgia kick. I rummaged through my bookshelves and pulled out everything I owned by T.S. Eliot, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. When I saw “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain on the New York Times Bestseller’s List, I knew I had to read it while Hemingway’s material was still fresh in my mind.
Told through Hadley Hemingway’s perspective (Ernest’s first wife), the story starts with the couple’s meeting and continues to their eventual divorce six years later. The book chronicles the Hemingways’ bohemian lifestyle in Paris as Hadley is exposed to fast life of the Jazz Age.
With supporting characters of great American expatriates like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and other literary greats, it’s hard for a classic book lover not to feel attached and excited as the story progresses.
What I loved most about the story was that it felt less of a Hemingway biography and more of authentic story telling by Hadley. I felt a deep sadness as Hadley conveyed her inner thoughts to the reader as she realized certain truths about Hemingway that she could never change: his angry temperament, his infidelity and how damaged the first World War had left him.
I’ve always been in love with Hemingway, but this book surprised me and made deeply attached to Hadley. The lovely way she spoke to the reader about the challenges as Hemingway’s wife utterly captivated me. I sympathized with her, cried with her, and rooted for her all along.
McLain says she got the idea to write in Hadley’s voice when she read Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. In the final pages, he writes of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” It prompted her to research Hadley’s life and the Hemingways’ first, brief marriage.
McLain does a remarkable job of interpreting the couple’s personal life and brings Hadley alive by giving her a genuine voice. “The Paris Wife” is a must read for nostalgia lovers, people who appreciate quality character development, and those who’ve read “The Old Man and the Sea” more times than they can remember.