The Paris Wife – A Novel

I recently joined a book club, and the first book I read as part of the group was “The Paris Wife”. I work in a theater where we sell season tickets for Broadway shows. One of the things season ticket holders often say is “I love having season tickets because I end up seeing shows I wouldn’t have otherwise just because they were part of the package – and I almost always enjoy these surprise finds.” I now feel this way about being in a book club. The book, The Paris Wife, wasn’t on my radar, and I’m so glad it came recommended by the girls in the group.

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain is a novel told from the perspective of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, (Elizabeth) Hadley Hemingway. I didn’t have a rich knowledge about Hemingway, other than I had read some of his work in a high school literature class and I knew he had suffered from mental illness. But, this love (and sometimes heartache) story is fascinating.

This beautifully told story was a quick read, not because it was simple or short, but because I just couldn’t put it down. Based on the true story of Ernest and Hadley’s life, McLain cites many resources for her tale, including letters between the two lovers. While a girl can certainly enjoy the titillating Fifty Shades of Grey lust, this book is so real! It makes you fall in love with Hemingway just as Hadley does. It makes you feel her highs of being with this remarkable romantic, and her lows as his paranoia, war-haunted nightmares and wondering eyes take him over.

If you enjoy historical novels as I do, this book will whip you into early 20th century France and you may never want to come back. As I get annoyed with my husband’s inability to pick up his socks and his snoring, I must say – he’s an angel compared to Mr. Hemingway.

The main question amongst our book club gals was “Did he ever love her? He puts her through so much.” I leave that to you to decide. But, truly – this is a brilliant work which paints a picture of a famous couple you may not know much about. It’s exciting to hear Hadley (in McLain’s text) talk about the famous and eccentric likes of such people as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, among others. It’s fascinating to learn how very poor the struggling writer and his family were while he was trying to “make it”. And, it’s relative for any woman to hear how Hadley constantly doubts herself – her looks, her intelligence, her ability as a mother and her worth.

It is ultimately Hadley’s sense of self-worth that leads her to face the full truth of her marriage situation toward the end of the book. This relationship faces many trials and tribulations, and it is haunting at times. But, I would highly recommend this look into history and an examination of what love really is.

Here is a great interview with the fantastic author, Paula McLain.

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