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After reading The Paris Wife, I had to read Hemingway’s A Movable Feast. I wanted to see how he saw his Paris years, and how his version integrated with the fiction version of Hadley’s. I was prepared to not like the book.
I was not prepared to like it as much as I did. Hemingway writes of the years when he was young, newly married and wildly happy, living a stimulating and lively life with lively friends. They were poor, but he was following his dream. They had a lot of fun.
Hemingway wrote this book, full of stories of their Paris life, full of names you know – Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso, Closerie des Lilas, Les Deux Magots, Brasserie Lipp, the Louvre . . . and as you read it, you are there. He writes in the moment; you are right there experiencing it along with him. He writes of people he likes, and people he doesn’t like. He writes about his own vices – an addiction to horse racing, for example – and he writes with enormous sadness about how he came to be distracted from his marriage and lost the most wonderful relationship that ever happened to him. He blames it on the careless rich. He takes some responsibility.
He also writes very frankly and openly about people he doesn’t like and why. I couldn’t help but think it is a heady thing, being an acclaimed author, where you can take revenge by putting people you dislike in your books. Hemingway uses real names and real people and often portrays them in a distinctly unflattering light. It made me wonder if he was planning to commit suicide all along; that or he just didn’t care what people think, and it seems he might have been the kind just not to care.
Just after finishing this book, and talking one last time with his first wife, Hadly, Hemingway committed suicide. It leaves me wondering if he was driven to suicide by regret, or by fears that his bigger-than-life life of adventure, travel, high life and travel was over, or if he had serious bouts of depression all his life, and this was just another, deeper depression?
It is a great read, especially paired with Paula McLain’s book, The Paris Wife. I thought it might be “he said – she said,” but Hemingway and the fictional Hadley in The Paris Wife both agree that they had a love and marriage that was very special, that Paris was a wonderful stimulating, alive environment, and that it was a great tragedy when the marriage ended. A Movable Feast seems to say that destroying his marriage to Hadley was one of a cocktail of self-destructive behaviors over which he tried to ride herd (gambling on the horse races, drinking, drugs, a coterie of star-struck sex partners outside of marriage, inability to focus on his work, a curmudgeonly nature . . .)
It’s also an easy read. I particularly enjoyed reading it on the iPad because you can do that swirly-finger-thing and find out what words mean or see the street locations as he walks Paris, see whether a cafe or restaurant in Paris still exist. It would be a good airline read – keeps your attention and finishes quickly.
As little as I like Woody Allen, it was fun to see Midnight in Paris, and to have some visuals of this go-go inter-war era.
Two things that stuck out for me: Hemingway loved walking in Paris, as do I. He also talks here and there about the benefits of being hungry. There were times when money was tight; they wore old shabby clothes, and there were times they didn’t have much food. He talks about hunger sharpening your other senses. On the other hand, very quickly when he has money, he has a great meal and a drink – or two – or three.
Bottom line, I’m glad I read this book. It’s given me a lot to think about.