Customer Reviews: The Paris Wife: A Novel
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the end of Ernest Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast , he writes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her." After their divorce, Hemingway marries three more times, each one prompt to follow, like serial wives. This is the story of the woman that loved him before he was famous.

Paula McLain researched their biographies, letters, and Hemingway's novels, culling the material to imagine a story of their charmed and battered marriage in Paris, from 1921-1926. The tortured life and tragically foreshadowed suicide of Ernest Hemingway is public knowledge, as was his legendary womanizing. McLain's novel dodges the palaver, blending the facts that are known together with credible inference, creating a plausible, informed depiction of Hemingway and Hadley's marriage--the quotidian, the famed, the halcyon, the harsh.

The author writes from Hadley's point of view, inviting the reader inside their most tender and demolishing moments. A few choice sections belong to Hemingway's perspective, urgent and telling. The narrative deftly folds in their histories--the years before they met--artfully revealing early and private woes, which ripple and sometimes hiss beneath the ardor. We get the back stories without muddled exposition; by the time it arrives at the failure of their union, readers have acquired a fluency of Hadley's nature and Hemingway's core.

Hadley sustained several painful childhood experiences that eerily parallel Hemingway's, and was a recluse and "spinster" at twenty-eight, when she met and was courted by the twenty-one-year-old Hemingway. He was a struggling, ambitious writer, home after the shock and agonies of the Great War, where he endured trauma and its aftereffects, described today as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). He couldn't sleep without a light. His mother was an insufferable controller, and he didn't want to marry a woman like that.

The pliable and less progressive Hadley was a sound match for the needy, talented, and egocentric Ernest. He required a woman who would unshakably support his career. Hadley was a generous lover and devoted supporter who sacrificed her personal ambitions for Ernest. She was also playful and warm and smart, but not savvy and edgy like the emerging modern women of the 1920's.

In prose that reflects the style of the era, McLain illustrates a glittering world of élan expatriates and literati. Hadley and Ernest (and their baby, Bumby) lived in the (then) modest Latin Quarter, and soon became a vibrant part of the Left Bank artists, such as Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, Jean Rhys, and many others. Open marriage, and mistresses living in the same house with wives, were not unheard of in this set.

Blithe talk, bottomless glasses of whiskey, and bottle after bottle of wine was the norm in their active social lives. In the mornings, the hair of the dog was the cure for the night on the town. Jaunts to Pamplona to see the bullfights were illustrated by McClain in all their gory splendor.

During this time, Hemingway wrote copiously and tirelessly, jealous of some of his peers who were already established. The germination and completion of The Sun Also Rises is covered, as well as his ruthless parody of Sherwood Anderson's work, The TORRENTS OF SPRING. Hadley loved him utterly, propped him up buoyantly, and assured him of his inevitable success. Eventually, Ernest acquired more expansive needs, and Hadley needed less, but got more than she bargained for. McClain limns their marriage as more than just a cautionary tale.

"To keep you from thinking, there was liquor, an ocean's worth at least, all the usual vices and plenty of rope to hang yourself with. But some of us, a very few in the end, bet on marriage against the odds."

This isn't standard "chick-lit" fare, nor is it cloying. I recommend this to anyone interested in the psyche of Hemingway, his first marriage, and his genesis as one of the greatest American authors of our time--from a wife's perspective.
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VINE VOICEon February 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I had the most curious reaction to this book. About 3/4 of the way through I had decided I would give it 4 stars, and I wasn't happy about it. Although it felt very authentic, the prose didn't sing, and I thought I knew why. Hadley Richardson Hemingway simply didn't have a dynamic personality. The story as told mostly through her voice contained lots of detail but Hadley felt more like an observer than a player much of the time. Then when Ernest strayed, the game changed. Hadley showed her considerable inner strength and I felt her heart breaking. She let down her guard enough to show that she was in fact a remarkable woman, and this is a remarkable book.

Paula McLain has clearly read lots of Hemingway. The writing style is Hemingwayesque. It feels right for this story and for Hadley's voice because she was so much more reserved than the others in their circle. In the end, McLain quite neatly analyzes Ernest and the marriage, and the book is so readable. Although it is fiction, I don't doubt that it really could have happened this way. The book is obviously thoroughly researched. Historic fiction is so tricky, and I think it fails more often than it succeeds. This is by far the best historic novel I have ever read. I don't want to spoil the delights in these pages, but I will share a highlight for me. When Hemingway and Fitzgerald were editing The Sum Also Rises at the kitchen table, Hadley compared them to surgeons. At that point I think she realized that Ernest's greatness as a writer would surmount his failings as a husband and a human being. I thought it was a fabulous moment.

I really think this book is a triumph. The subject matter definitely piqued my interest, the writing was flawless, and I wish there could be a sequel.
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VINE VOICEon February 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ernest Hemingway, 21, marries Hadley Richardson eight years his senior and promptly moves with her to Paris to be among the upstarts, the in crowd, the expatriates that worshipped Paris as their city of creativity. Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald not to mention famous actors, musicians and painters were their companions though they often lived hand to mouth. Content to live in Ernest's shadow, providing him with much needed stability and a shoulder, Hadley embraces his love of of the outdoors, spontaneous moves to various Euorpean locals, bull fighting, horse racing and for a time, drinking. But soon the lure and glamour began to fade. The eccentricities of open marriages, mistresses and provocative lifestyles leaves Hadley at loss especially after the birth of their son. Hemingway's constant moodiness, carousing, heavy drinking, lack of decorum and superior attitude begin to unravel his wife's resolve. His resentment of her few friendships also speak to his possessiveness and selfish nature. When "fame" arrives it shatters all handrails that Hadley has clung to. The intense love she feels for Ernest drives her to fight for their marriage and for Ernest's life, but to what avail?

I adored the book, "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horner all about Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress; it as well as "The Paris Wife," demonstrate the incredible sacrifices a companion must make to cajole an artist's tender ego. Not surprisingly I see Nancy Horan endorsed this book and rightfully she should. The writing is so beautifully strong as it exposes lifestyles of creative geniuses. Paula MClain does an amazing job of keeping the reader glued to the perils of this complex couple. Homage is paid to many parts of Europe and sent me to the computer to look at the sites the Hemingway's enjoyed. When a book fires your curiosity you know you have found a treasure.

Though a fictionalized account, the author did extensive research and to my mind didn't make any major mistakes in her accuracy. The tale is riveting because of her ability to breath life into all the major players.

Great novel that I highly endorse.
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VINE VOICEon February 22, 2011
I didn't know much about Ernest Hemingway or his wives before I started The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. This is the story of his first wife, Hadley; a story of how they met, the depth of their love, and how it came to wither away. Set mainly in Paris during prohibition, McLain paints us a picture of two newlyweds on the cusp of greatness. Perched to seize the world by storm, Hadley and Ernest rock on the edge of several lives: that of the happily married couple, that of the poor writer trying to make a living, and that of disaster brought on by depression and angst.

The positive aspect of Paula McLain's writing is that I forgot this book was about Hemingway's first wife. Meaning I was able to sink into Hadley's mind and Ernest's love and then feel emotional heartbreak as their marriage fell apart. The dialogue for the time period is authentic; quick, sharp, witty and sassy. We are very much inside Hadley's mind and our emotional connection with her is strong, we feel her passions and pains, her desires and needs. We support her entirely. But I also grew sick of her simpering passiveness, waiting for something to happen as she struggles to find her role in Ernest's life. Upon discovering this annoyance half-way through the novel, I was pulled out of it entirely. It made me question how much of what I was reading was actually fact. Was this really how Hem's first wife felt? Was he really this big of an ass?

Beneath my questions of the authenticity of Hadley is Ernest himself, and his pain and waywardness is what drives the story, as it drove their life together. As much as I grew to dislike him, and even Hadley at times, their story is tragically beautiful; so even though there were moments when I felt a lackluster performance from McLain's writing, the story of these two lovers carried me through to the end, like a good love story should.

Fans of historical fiction will enjoy Hadley's story, but Hemingway fans will bypass The Paris Wife in favor of his memoir, which I plan to read now that I know a bit more about the tragedy and triumph of this man, and his wife.
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VINE VOICEon February 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I will admit my bias for this book right now. "The Paris Wife" was excerpted in a magazine and I fell for it like a ton of bricks. M's McClain's gifted writing draws the reader into Chicago in 1920. Whatever you know or think you know about Ernest Hemingway is about to change to give you a completely different view of Mr Hemingway. And all because M's McClain's gift for bringing Hadley Hemingway and the Jazz Age to life.

M's McClain did extensive research to write this book from Hadley's point of view. The reader knows the marriage is doomed, that Ernest Hemingway is doomed, but I couldn't help trying to read it as fast as I could.

Hadley is a 28 year old "spinster". Ernest is a mere 21 years old but has led a much more exciting life. Both Hadley's and Ernest's early life had strange co-incidences. Both of their fathers committed suicide in very similar ways. All of this and more is underneath their lives together. M's McClain weaves her story so well that the back story is explored without disrupting the flow of the narrative.

Though much of the book is from Hadley Hemingway's point of view, there are sections told from Ernest Hemingway's view. The creation and culmination of "The Sun Also Rises"The Sun Also Rises occurs during this period of Hemingway's life.Hadley is loving and giving to Ernest, ever supportive, ever flexible. She knows of Ernest's faults, the womanizing and the drinking, his psychological problems left over from World War I and she still stands by him. After all, in the Hemingway's social group were mistresses and wives under the same roof with full knowledge of affairs. Drinking alcohol was the same as breathing air to this crowd.

M's McClain does an excellent job bringing the 1920s and this couple to life. If you are interested in Ernest Hemingway and his life, if you want to view him as his first wife did before the fame, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

And finally, the most telling reason you should read this book if you are interested in Ernest Hemingway - A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition this is what Ernest Hemingway thought of Hadley, his first wife.

"I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her."
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on April 14, 2011
Being a Hemingway fan, I was excited (at first) to have come across this book. I ordered it instantly and I felt reassured by lots of positive reviews on Amazon. I was expecting it to be at least 'above average.' How wrong I was. Like one of the other reviewers noted, it feels like the author merely took Hemingway's and Hadley's biography and inserted dialogue into it. The other characters, including Stein and Pound, feel so one-dimensional. I would be ok with this kind of depiction if it were a REAL biography and the book was just trying to portray what actually happenned. However, it is not. It claims to be a fictionized version of the two people's lives, so I was expecting a bit more 'bite' to the story and its development. (The fictionized) Hadley here comes across as very passive and uninteresting, to put it mildly, and it is very hard to relate to her or any other character to the book. There is no real story arc, it feels like Hadley the character is citing every single incident in chronological order. Some scenes are so repetitive and mundane that it made me wonder if I was on the wrong page reading what I had read a couple of pages ago. I was ready to quit reading around page 143. I somehow managed to finish it, but my opinion hasn't changed. I'd rather recommend the real Hemingway, The Moveable Feast. I don't understand why this book has gotten such favorable reviews on Amazon.
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on April 4, 2011
Maybe a reader has to be a Hemingway fan to enjoy this book, but I've sometimes found the artist interesting even if I don't give a fig for their art. Sometimes an author has even given me a new appreciation for someone I was previously ambivalent about. This didn't happen here, and I found the prose so flat and uninvolving that I bailed on page 207. It didn't seem worth the time and effort to continue.

It's a straightforward novelization of Hadley Hemingway's life with Ernest. Too straightforward. Most of the time, the research seems to dominate the storytelling, as if the author loves the subject so much that not a detail must be spared. It just felt a bit tedious to be told that Ernest reported for work in Toronto on September 10, and they heard on September 14 that Smyrna was burning in the Greco-Turkish war. There was too much of obsessing with "Who said what, and where" that the actual people in the story had all the dimension of a Wiki article. I didn't know what Hadley looked like (who can keep track of all those wives?), and it's not until quite a ways into the book that we're told of her facial features and hairstyle. It's as if the author assumes the reader is already right there beside her in the Hemingway knowledge and love. (Or she was kept deliberately vague to be used as a reader avatar.) A paragraph about Hadley looking at the meats and vegetables at a Paris market is but an example of this saturation of minutae about the Hemingways and their travels and experiences. Riveting no doubt to a rabid fan, but for the casual reader, *yawn*.

There's lots of cameos by other Lost Generation members, but they have all the substance of cameos. I dunno, I think I'd much rather read non-fiction about somebody than a dull novel that reads like somebody took a biography and added dialogue to it. And that's what this one felt like. So I'd recommend it for the Hemingway fan who wants to read a book with moments where they can exclaim, "They've moved to Paris! Yay, we're at the part where Ernest and Gertrude Stein are falling out! Oh, and now they're meeting F. Scott and Zelda!"

Fine book for those who like that, but not for me. I'm not sure this is strict "literary fiction. It read more like "literary crush fiction." And I like my historical fiction to be more meaty than this.
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VINE VOICEon April 5, 2011
'Paris Wife' is the story of the first Mrs. Ernest Hemingway, Hadley Richardson. It covers their courtship and five year marriage during which Ernest struggled for recognition as a writer. The novel ends with his publication of 'The Sun Also Rises. During their brief five years together they drink heavily, hang out with famous people like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald and travel a lot from their home in Paris to Spain to Austria and back to Paris. During that time Hadley gives birth to Ernest's first son, endearingly nicknamed Bumby. The question, though, is whether a story that focuses on Hadley and is told from her point of view can be interesting enough to sustain a novel. My answer is yes and no. I found the first two-thirds of the novel not terribly interesting, because Hadley is not a terribly interesting person. Hemingway is egotistical, self-centered, jealous and a drunk. In a word he is an obnoxious bore (as are their circle of famous friends). Hadley is the long-suffering wife, a complete doormat for Hem. She has no life of her own, other than to create an atmosphere where the Great Man can work, and absorb the the abuse he dishes out including bringing his mistress Pauline Pfifer into their household. (Hadley sleeps with Hem at night, and Pauline has him in the afternoons in the room next door). It is not until the last third of the book when Hadley is attempting to save her disintegrating marriage that the book held any real interest for me. There is a poignancy and horror in watching Hadley accept first the presence of the mistress in their lives and then come to terms with the need to end the marriage.
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Before Ernest Hemingway was ERNEST HEMINGWAY - one of the most revered, studied, analyzed, and parodied authors of American literature - he was a young man with a burning talent, staking his claim to a bright future.

And part of this future included Hadley Richardson, his first wife, a woman who was his equal in many ways - a risk-taker, adventurer, and big drinker. Paula McLain - in an addictive and mesmerizing debut book - breathes life into their life together in Paris in the 1920s, when everything was just starting to come together.

It was a golden time in Paris. Ernest Hemingway was a writer on the cusp; he was championed by Sherwood Anderson -- whom he eventually turns on - and he hung out with expatriates Gertrude Stein and Alice Tokias, Ezra Pound and his lover, Shakespear (no "e" at the end), and later, with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Gerald and Sara Murphy. He eagerly sought advice, learning to fine-tune his craft, especially with the guidance of Gertrude Stein: "She'd hit on something he'd recently begun to realize about directness, about stripping language all the way down."

Yet the book is always, definitively, Hadley's to narrate - and indeed, she does so quite sympathetically, in the first-person. In many ways, it is a re-telling of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, as Ms. McLain pushes deeper into the lives of her characters while remaining true to the facts.

Hadley meets Ernest not long after the death of her overprotective mother, and marries him after a short courtship. Nearly a decade older than her new spouse, she lets him lead the way; when Sherwood Anderson convinces him to go to Paris, she gladly signs on. In many ways, she becomes the personification of Hemingway's famous "True Woman" - someone who is true and gentle and good and strong - without losing her essence.

As their life becomes more and more colorful - ski trips, visits to Ezra Pound at Rapallo, wasted drinking weekends at Pamplona for the running of the bulls, Hadley asks one of their friends, "What is it we want, exactly?" The answer, "Everything, of course. Everything and then some." Hadley retorts, "If this is a festival, then why aren't we happy?"

Happiness is hers in fleeting moments, as Ernest begins to attract attention for his work, after her son is born, and when she loses herself in her piano playing. But Hemingway is crippled by what would now be diagnosed as PTSD as a result of his war years, and is way too self-destructive. Followers of Hemingway know that he will leave her for another woman -- the hypocritical Pauline Pfeiffer, who embraces them both, calling them "her cherishables" and "her dears."

Hadley is, of course, immortalized for the famous lost manuscript incident. When her husband was covering the Lausanne Peace Conference, Hadley paid him a visit in train and packed all of his manuscripts including the carbons in a small valise, which was stolen and never recovered. This is but one of the story lines depicted in this page-turning debut.

With a few tiny missteps - a little too much foreshadowing and sometimes, an over-awe of her subject - Ms. McLain eloquently captures the innermost feelings of Hadley as well as the Paris life at a heady and exhilarating time. Years later, Ernest Hemingway - who married four times in all - writes of Hadley, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her." I closed the pages of this book wondering how much better his life might have turned out had he remained with the woman he called "the best and truest and loveliest person I have ever known."
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on April 1, 2011
I admit that I stopped reading this fabricated indulgence by page 136. Yet again (and again), I got to learn that "When Ernest came back [...] he was tender with me...but his eyes were bruised looking and changed." (Hallmark Channel, anyone?) I can only imagine how astonished and unfamiliar the "real" Hadley would be by this piece of fluff. I could forgive the author if she had been able to evoke a Paris of "The Moveable Feast" but all that is done here is a passing nod to names (Stein/Toklas, et al.)and neighborhoods. I could forgive the author if she had captured a youthful marriage. Within the covers of this book, there is neither insight nor entertainment.
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