The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife
“This isn’t going to end well” you tell yourself when you start reading
this book, and you tell yourself not to read any further but you can’t
stop. This is a very good girl who meets a bad boy – what is it about
bad boys, anyway? You know you should go for the serious guy, the one
who will always have a good job, be a good provider for the family, a
good father to your children. You know all this, and you choose the bad
boy anyway. Why?
Hadley Richardson is a good girl at one of those transitional times in
history; world war I had ended, the damaged young men, including Ernest
Hemingway, are back from war, it is the 1920′s and the world is turned
upside down. When they meet, the chemistry is hot and strong. Their
friends warn Hadley against marrying “Hem” but when the attraction is
so hot and high, who can listen?
You know from the beginning that she is just the first wife, so most of
the book is full of dread, waiting to find out just how awful it is all
going to be. The early years, living in Paris, being dirt poor while
Hemingway gets started with his writing, are good years. They meet lots
of interesting expats living in Paris, they drink a lot, they are off
to Spain for the bullfights, and to Austria for the skiing, on the move
a lot, even once the baby comes.
It’s a fascinating book, a snapshot of the roaring 1920′s, of the
transitional era when women started becoming less submissive and more
free, and of a relationship between a nice girl and a talented but
damaged and self-destructive man. You’ll hate having to put it down.
Post review add: I finished this book while in Zambia and wrote the review. I really want to read A Movable Feast, now, Hemingway’s last book before he killed himself, written about this marriage. I understand it is a nostalgic tribute to his first marriage and to Hadley.
We watched Hemingway and Gelhorn last night, and watched him leave Pauline, the false friend who snatched him from Hadley (this is not a spoiler, folks, this is history) for Gelhorn, and then in anger at Gelhorn, turn to the woman who would become his last wife. She is protrayed as a total twit.
The movie, Hemingway and Gelhorn, was only mildly interesting; Kidman was her glorious self but there was zero chemistry, her romance with Hemingway barely believable. And he comes off as a real jerk. The jerk part is consistent with The Paris Wife, but while The Paris Wife is more sympathetic to Hemingway, portraying him as damaged but vulnerable, in Hemingway and Gelhorn, he is just arrogant, egotistic and obnoxious. Still, after you read The Paris Wife, it is interesting to see the rest of the story.