Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

The Paris Wife

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.


This isn’t a detective story – not hardly. I don’t want to say Keep watch for the girl who will come along and ruin everything, but she’s coming anyway, set on her course in a gorgeous chipmunk coat and fine shoes…
Paula McLain, The Paris Wife

The Saddest Story

The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

This is the saddest story I have ever heard…

Marriages aren’t always what they seem to be. Ford Madox Ford is so overlooked, despite being such an influence on every writer in the twenties parisian literary scene; Conrad, Fitzgerald, Hemingway… It is very much like his novel was written for writers to notice and imitate. The Good Soldier is a very tangled study of rich Europeans who are pretty bored and not very happy. And we all know the unusual relationships that develop! Ford makes full use of his unreliable narrator, creating a story that weaves backwards and forwards through time, gets misrepresented by memory, and is every bit as complex and flawed as people can be.

A bit of unrelated trivia: Whilst exclaiming that I liked the painting on the cover, I realised it is of Luxemburg Gardens in Paris, about twenty feet from the hotel I stayed in.

The Gallows Curse

The Gallows Curse, Karen Maitland

I think Karen Maitland is fantastic. I’ve read all her books, and whilst they aren’t massively different to each other, she knows her formula and she knows how to write to it. This one in particular:

  • Medieval murder mystery
  • Cast: cunning woman, prostitutes, castrati, lords of the manor, serfs…
  • Narrated by a mandrake
  • Lots of old english traditions, folk lore, and herbology

Got me hankering after this: