The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
Yesterday I got tangled up with the Hemingways. Their years spent in the 1920s literary scene in Paris and their beautiful and awful marriage. By the end of the book I was feeling pretty glad that somebody was giving Hadley Richardson (Ernest Hemingway’s first wife) a voice that deserved to be listened to. Because, oh, she had a hard time! The novel covers a little of Hemingway’s personality and life in the years leading up to the establishment of his literary career with The Sun Also Rises. There is a sense that the demise of this first marriage opened (eventually) a floodgate that lead to a kind of unsettled melancholy that plagued Hemingway for the rest of his life.
For a novel that is marketed (here in the UK) as looking a bit chick lit, there is a fair bit about the literary scene in Paris to counteract the fluff. Special reverance is given to the craft of writing and its approach by different authors. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, James Joyce – at times this book is a whos who guide to american writers of the 1920s.
I did really believe in Hadley’s character. Most of the time I thought her unwaivering devotion was an excuse to not attempt to achieve anything on her own terms. However, the demise of their marriage – whilst I always knew that is how the book would end – made me so surprisingly angry on her behalf.
I’m definitely going to read A Moveable Feast, Ernest’s account of their life together in Paris, but this book will stay very vividly in my head for a little while.