Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I joined a book club for two reasons:  to see how readers interpreted things they read, and to push myself outside of my genre comfort zone.  While the subject of this month’s read (Hadley Richardson’s five year marriage to Ernest Hemingway) is intriguing, it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t have picked this book up on my own accord.  But I’m glad I read it.    

Book Title: The Paris Wife
Author:  Paula McLain
Genre:  Fiction (but based on a true story)
Setting:  Starting in 1920s Chicago moving on to Post World War 1 Europe, mostly Paris.  
Format:  Hardcover         
Pages:  318
Publication date:  2011
Publisher:  Ballantine Books, New York
Favorite Passages: 
(1)     To walk the best streets in Paris just then was like having the curtained doors of a surreal circus standing open so you could watch the oddity and the splendor at any hour.  After the enforced austerity of the war, when the textile industry collapsed and the great couturiers nailed their doors shut, brightly colored silks now ran through the streets of Paris like water—Persian blues and greens, startling oranges and golds. 
(2)     “She chatters on about Chanel too much,” he <Hemingway> admitted, “but she’s smart about books.  She knows what she likes, and more than that, she knows why.  That’s very rare, particularly these days, when everyone’s more and more full of hot air.  You never know who to trust.” 

Beach Read Rating:  4 out of 5 Beach Umbrellas

Review: This book read like non-rhyming poetry, very rich and beautiful, bordering on hypnotic.  No big surprise to learn that Paula McLain earned her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry, then.  And like poetry, this book is very heavy on emotion, internalizing many thoughts and feelings and offering beautiful passages of description.  However, the book is rather light on the action level (the preponderance of what my literary diet consists of in mysteries and thrillers).  The characters seem to plod along, living life as it comes to them (which is great for real life, not so great to read about), with little things changing over time.  In other words, it wasn’t what those in the business call “a page turner.”    
I found the tome heavy on the name dropping, with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound , Gloria Stein and other notable literary icons being part of the tapestry but not impacting the story overly much.  But it was an interesting peek into the early life of Hemingway from a different perspective, and makes me wonder if Hemingway would have been Hemingway without his Hadley. 
Overall, it was beautifully written and like I said in the intro, I’m glad I read it.  But I’m hungry for a Janet Evanovich next.         

Cover blurb:  A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
Chicago, 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 her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

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