Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife

The official description:

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wifecaptures a remarkable period of time—Paris in the twenties—and an extraordinary love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

In Chicago in 1920, Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and finds herself captivated by his good looks, intensity, and passionate desire to write. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group of expatriates that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

But the hard-drinking and fast-living café life does not celebrate traditional notions of family and monogamy. As Hadley struggles with jealousy and self-doubt and Ernest wrestles with his burgeoning writing career, they must confront a deception that could prove the undoing of one of the great romances in literary history.



My Review/Reaction: 

Oh Hadley. Such an excellently written book so rarely leaves me wanting to shake the protagonist so much. I needed to remind myself often that this was the 1920s and gender roles were only beginning to be dissected and rearranged. Hadley didn’t live in a post-MTV, post-Madonna, post-feminism world that we have today. So often I wanted to shake her and yell at her to stand up for herself, for her marriage, for her life. Listen to your mother, Hadley!

This novel covers the first of four marriages of Ernest Hemingway, before he was THE Ernest Hemingway. Hadley spent her marriage being Hemingway’s second love and second choice, his craft always being his main priority and focus in his life. It’s not surprising that he would have chosen a woman significantly older than himself, searching for some sort of maternal approval that he never felt throughout his childhood from his own mother.


Hadley, as a character and as a woman, comes off as very weak and almost desperate in much of the book. Despite knowing that there is no happy ending for the couple, the writing has you hoping against hope that somehow they work it out. If you know anything about Hemingway, you know going in that that’s not the case. Hadley was a doormat throughout most of their marriage, going along with whatever Ernest wanted and biting her tongue most of the time to save face or save an argument from breaking out. It’s not until Pauline, Ernest’s lover that eventually became his second wife, infiltrates her marriage that Hadley finally shows that she did, in fact, possess a spine. Not much of one – letting her husband’s known lover join them on holiday – but it was better than nothing I guess.

The first 1/3 of the book is a great look into new love – the excitement, the sorrow that comes with being apart no matter how short the time, the willingness to overlook faults and potential issues you can see coming from miles away – all for that feeling of good knots in your stomach, those forehead kisses and 3:00 am conversations about everything and nothing. Despite their faults, there was genuine affection between Hadley and Hemingway for much of their marriage.

EH 5734PErnest is the typical artist – self-centered, moody, egotistical, competitive. This piece is a great look into the man behind the pen, or as much of a peek as we can get at someone who is long gone and the center of this fictional piece of work. Whether it was his less than stellar relationship with his parents growing up, holding people at a distance because of all the loss he witnessed during the war, or being rejected by his first love (a nurse that cared for him after he was injured in the war), Hemingway kept everyone out and no one was really able to scratch below the surface until they read his finished work. No one got too close or inside too deep, not even his own wife despite their promise to always be completely honest with one another at the start of their relationship.

EH 8093P


The epilogue brings whatever closure one can hope for under the circumstances, recounting Hadley’s version of their last conversation, some 35 years after their divorce and just weeks before Hemingway took his own life.

All in all, this novel was well written, well researched and a good read. Any issues I had were with the non-fictional personalities of our starring couple, though they made for an interesting and informative read. It’s been a long time I’ve picked up any Hemingway and this book made me want to dive into his writing again.

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