If you asked, I wouldn’t have said I was particularly interested in Ernest Hemingway. I still have bad Old Man and the Sea flashbacks from Grade 11, and none of the Hemingway novels I tried to read in college really did it for me. I’ve occasionally advised “Read Hemingway!” to a young writer who’s given to over-writing long, elaborate sentences, but while I appreciate his place in American literature, the only book of his I ever really enjoyed was A Moveable Feast. That memoir, written late in his life, covers the same years as Paula McLain’s novel The Paris Wife treats in fictional form — Hemingway’s early years as a young writer in Paris and his marriage to his first wife, Hadley.
It’s Hadley’s first-person perspective that McLain recreates in The Paris Wife, and I found it absolutely engaging and believable from the beginning. What impressed me was that she managed to portray the young Hemingway so convincingly that I fell in love with him as Hadley did — and experienced his shortcomings as a husband and the pain of his betrayal along with her as the marriage crumbled. The world of ex-pat American and British writers in Paris in the 20s is vividly rendered, and so is the portrait of a woman who dedicates her life to supporting her husband’s art — only to find herself discarded as an unsuccessful first draft.
I’ve read some bad reviews of this book by reviewers who found it, and Hadley, dull, but I have to say I was completely caught up in it and found it hard to put down.