Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

It’s 1920 in Chicago, and the parties are swinging, but 28-year-old Hadley Richardson has nearly given up on finding love and a happy marriage. The tides turn when she meets a young Ernest Hemingway, who sweeps her off her feet. After a whirlwind marriage, they marry and move to Paris, where they fall in with an artistic crowd later known as the Lost Generation.

The Paris Wife is the story of Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, during their time in Paris. Through her perspective, we experience the wild parties of the 20s and get to know some of the Jazz Age’s major figures, including Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound.

Books with the word “wife” in the title are a pet peeve of mine (The Paris Wife, The Pilot’s Wife, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Tiger’s Wife, to name a few), but I enjoyed this novel. Paula McLain breathes life into a woman known primarily for her relationship with a famous author.

I listened to the audiobook in November 2013, and it was actually my inspiration for Jazz Age January. Listening to this book made me really curious about the era and it’s players, and I wanted to learn more! Now, having read A Moveable Feast (review coming next week), it’s really interesting to think about The Paris Wife in its historical context. Many of the incidents described in McLain’s novel are present in Hemingway’s work, and it’s interesting to read them from Hadley’s perspective. Reading this novel actually helped me interpret A Moveable Feast; I don’t know if it’s because Hemingway’s book was unfinished or because it’s just his writing style, but he left a lot of things out. He would refer to certain things, like returning from Toronto after their child Bumby’s birth without ever having mentioned they went to Toronto. Had I not read The Paris Wife, which follows a similar time-line, I would have been confused.

I really enjoyed The Paris Wife, especially as a companion text to A Moveable Feast. It helped me make sense of some of the events, and it was interesting to read about Hemingway and other famous authors of the time from Hadley’s perspective. It was also nice to read more about Hadley, a fascinating woman and the heroine of A Moveable Feast.

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20 thoughts on “Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

  1. From what I’ve read over the years, Hemingway was a drinker and not a nice guy at all. He had four wives…makes me think no one could put up with him or he was very fickle. Was he portrayed poorly in the story? He was portrayed poorly in Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

  2. I read and reviewed this last summer but I was not overly impressed. I could see so much of her research shining though, which I loved, but her fictional elements didn’t quite live up to the factual bits for me. I think I’m an odd one out though, I’ve read mostly glowing reviews!

  3. I read this book a few months ago and loved it! I enjoyed getting to know more of who Hadley was and seeing life through her eyes. Also, it was interesting to see how some of the now big names of the Lost Generation like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald interacted with each and in a way I got to know them better.

  4. I think you make a very interesting point about the way this book and A Moveable Feast relate to one another. I love reading multiple books about the same topic or time period, because of the way they interact with one another. I feel like it can deepen my understanding of a topic and make each book more enjoyable than it would have been on its own.

    • I feel the same; I’ve really been enjoying reading a bunch of books about/set in this time period. It’s so interesting to get different perspectives!

  5. Like Allison, I’ve had this on my TBR list for some time, but so many others to read first. Thanks for a memorable review, one which pushes me toward getting this in hand and reading it.

    In defense of Hemingway and Moveable Feast, it was not (at least in my opinion) written by Hemingway with the intention of publishing it. This book was coupled together by family members many, many years after his death upon finding his notes and journals from his time in Paris in a trunk. It would be difficult to do more than transcribe if you, as the compiler, wanted to keep a certain degree of integrity to the story. Yes, Hemingway was an alcoholic like so many writers. Truly it is a solitary, lonely life to be a writer. Thank goodness my alcoholic tendences are mild. Perhaps it’s why my book isn’t moving along any faster, but it will likely be readable. 🙂

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