1,069 of 1,099 people found the following review helpful
"Papa" was a rolling stone,
This review is from: The Paris Wife: A Novel (Hardcover)
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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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Showing 1-10 of 42 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 3, 2011 5:28:31 PM PST
michael a. draper says:
Can I say anything else? You never fail to give an excellent review. I like your suggestion as to who would enjoy this novel more than others.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 3, 2011 7:12:43 PM PST
Thank you, Michael. Such kind words. It was a crisp read!
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 4, 2011 3:16:56 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 4, 2011 6:27:40 AM PST
J. Grattan says:
Bug, I suppose the question that leaps out to me, is just how significant was Hadley in his larger, longer life. The marriage was for five yrs - did her presence extend much before and after that period. I know beginning yrs are important. Is the author suggesting that without Hadley, his success may not have occurred or been substantially less. Beyond being a compliant companion, how did she affect Hemingway? Despite Hemingway's comment, did other women/wives actually play a significant role in his life? Did they all just stand in the shadows? It appears that beyond the strictly personal, the book captures a sense of life for expatriates in the '20s. If I am interpreting this correctly, it does seem to be a bit limited in scope?
Posted on Feb 4, 2011 1:54:57 PM PST
Dick Johnson says:
Nice review. While I don't have enough interest in those involved to read the book, your review will certainly help those who do in making a reading decision. Dick
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2011 2:22:43 AM PST
Jim--this novel actually does show how significant Hadley was in his larger, longer life. BTW, although they were divorcing by the time SUN was being published, he gave all his royalties to Hadley. Later, he acknowledged that she was the best woman in his life. (see first paragraph)
I don't know if he suggests that, without Hadley, his success would not have been as great. Hemingway was a monster talent, and he was destined to be acknowledged.
He did have 3 children with Paula, his second wife--but he resented her later. As for Martha? Don't know. And there is one more. But this novel is really about this FIRST wife and the days he began as a writer, and how eerily their pasts were parallel to each other. You begin to understand Hemingway's PTSD.
Limited in scope? Well, this is about Hadley and Ernest, not Ernest and his other wives. So, it is really about the Left Bank time. Nothing in it feels limited.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2011 2:23:57 AM PST
Thanks, Dick. I do recommend this book to anyone interested in Hemingway as a young man. Bug
Posted on Feb 5, 2011 4:09:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 5, 2011 4:15:49 PM PST
Mark Blackburn says:
Superb review. How I wish I could write this well:
"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."
You always convey so much, and in so few words: nice 'economy of style' (something I'm seldom accused-of).
Just had to say "thanks, Ms Van Horn" for this wonderful 'heads-up' for a book I wasn't aware of, but am now compelled to obtain. I'm delighted as well to see you remain "Top 200s" ranked among the 7.7 million (correct) of us ordinary souls pouring our hearts out at the world's biggest website. On the strength of barely 180 reviews, that is simply astonishing (to me).
Tried to leave you "helpful" vote No 15 -- hope it "takes" for a change. To coin a song title, though -- It seems to me you've heard THAT song before. Keep writing the fine reviews, "Switterbug."
Mark B of the frozen North
p.s. A propos nothing but our shared appreciation of good things, celebrated in writing: I have a year-old thread going at the 'world's biggest website for musicians' HARMONY CENTRAL in the "songwriting" folder of their "forums" (clear as mud?) Titled, "A great melody first, THEN lyrics . . ." it turned 35,000 (correct) "views" this date -- their all-time monster. Young budding song-writers haven't contributed much, but they're tuning in to see which great old songs/great singers I'll celebrate next. Something tells me "Switterbug" might enjoy it too! Be well and happy, Austin Lady.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2011 9:43:07 PM PST
Thank you for this very very very kind words. I am really touched. I will try to find your thread soon at Harmony Central. Sounds like a superhighway of music.
Stay cool in the frozen North. We in Central Tecas actually had snow yesterday!
Posted on Feb 7, 2011 4:18:01 AM PST
Evelyn A. Getchell says:
Oh Bug...such a review! You never fail to raise the flag of excellence, above and beyond most others. I know I would love this and hope I can make the catch in this month's Vine. I love a visit to that era in the Left Bank. I especially appreciate your final comment about this not being standard "chick-lit."
With reference to Gertrude Stein and her salon group, have you read The Book of Salt: A Novel, a gorgeous, delicious piece of fiction by Monique Truong? Although I've never reviewed it, it is one of my all-time favorite novels. Ev
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2011 7:33:43 AM PST
Eva--thank you! I haven't read Book of Salt but I will certainly keep it on my radar. I haven't read Truong's BITTER IN THE MOUTH yet, either, but intend to. I think you would really like this... Bug