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Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

“I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” – Ernest Hemingway on his first wife, Hadley

Book cover of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (historical fiction)
When Ernest Hemingway dedicated The Sun Also Rises to his first wife, Hadley, their divorce was almost complete and he had already moved in with another woman. Paula McLain’s new fictionalized memoir, The Paris Wife, is a beautiful recreation of this doomed marriage and the impact it had on Hemingway the writer.

Using the couple’s correspondence and Hemingway’s published works, McLain reconstructs their relationship and the Paris of the Lost Generation in brilliant detail.  Hadley Richardson was a 29-year-old spinster recovering from the death of her mother when she met 21-year-old Ernest Hemingway at a party in Chicago.

She was captivated by his intensity and confidence, and he was charmed by her practicality and stability.  They marry after a short acquaintance and move to Paris where they teeter on the edge of poverty as Hemingway experiments with his writing.  The characters in this book are dazzling, and almost every important Jazz Age artist or writer makes an appearance (Zelda Fitzgerald is one hot mess, let me tell you). 

I’m not generally a fan of faux memoirs, or of books where you know from the start that it’s not going to end well, but The Paris Wife was so fantastic that I couldn’t put it down.  The Hemingway we meet through Hadley’s eyes is vastly different from the one we generally see.  He is egotistical and arrogant, but somewhat fragile and very human.  The depression and alcoholism that plagued his life are present, but so are his humor and zest for life.  The book is beautifully and descriptively written and, though not as sparse as Hemingway’s prose, remarkably simple. 

I can’t stop thinking about this book.  Hadley’s narrative is fascinating and emotional, and the fact that it is true makes it so much more heartbreaking.  There are frustrating parts (we obviously know from the beginning that he's going to cheat on her) and I felt it ended abruptly, but it is a definite must-read nonetheless.
Romance novel book reviews by Sarah The Brazen Bookworm


  1. I am definitely going to read this. Thanks for the review.

  2. It's really good, Alexis! Let me know what you think!

  3. Sarah,
    This is a very helpful review. I had this book on my list to read but not high on my list. Your review has definitely made it rise higher.

  4. 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.

    Marlene Detierro (Fishing Lodge Alaska)

  5. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Life in Paris and around Europe. Makes me want to do the same.
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Romance novel book review