Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Pages: 314
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: March 3, 2011
Source: Book Swap
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "No twentieth-century American writer has captured the popular imagination as much as Ernest Hemingway. This novel tells his story from a unique point of view — that of his first wife, Hadley. Through her eyes and voice, we experience Paris of the Lost Generation and meet fascinating characters such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, "I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her."

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is written from the point of view of Hadley, Ernest Hemingway's first wife.  It takes us through their first meeting, their courtship, and their marriage. Afterwards, they move to Paris and most of the story takes place there and deals with the Lost Generation.  Hadley and Ernest meet famous authors and artists, they travel the world, experience new and exciting adventures, and then there is also betrayal.  McLain's historical fiction, The Paris Wife, has a lot of potential, but it left me desiring a bit more.

Simply put, Hadley is a boring person and I think that is the problem as The Paris Wife is from her point of view. She annoyed me greatly with her lack of self-confidence and her extreme dependence on Hemingway.  For example, he would leave for a work assignment for three weeks and she could act like her world was coming to an end. No joke.  I like my main characters with a bit more spunk, especially if you are going to compete for the spotlight with someone larger than life, a.k.a. Hemingway.  Hadley, although I felt sorry for her, lacks backbone.  If you know anything about Hemingway, you know he is a philanderer and he cheats on Hadley with her friend, Pauline. Hemingway does end up marrying her and moves to Key West, but their relationship doesn't last either.  Anyway, Hadley knows that Hemingway is cheating on her, but puts up with both of them anyway and even takes Pauline on vacation with them! It was all very Big Love and I don't know how she could stand it for as long as she did.

Despite Hemingway's many downfalls, I have always been interested in him and love his writing style.  I found that the part of the novel that include him a bit more was exciting and fun.  For example, he spends time with great writers like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Who doesn't love the Lost Generation and that time in history? Some of my favorite novels and poetry come from that time; in fact, my favorite English course in college was American Modernism.  Being an English nerd, I couldn't get enough of that aspect of the novel, but when it got back to Hadley and her mundane personality, I felt myself losing interest.  

The Paris Wife was a bit slow at times.  All they really did was sit around for the most part.  Ernest spent time writing, drinking, going to cafes, traveling, Ernest will write more, drink, etc.  The novel does pick up when Pauline enters the social circle and of course, turns Hadley's world upside down.  Hadley lacked anything special in her life other than the fact that she was Mrs. Hemingway and liked to play the piano, which made it dull.

All in all, readers will know Hadley is better off by the end of The Paris Wife as we all know what happens to Hemingway.  But when it comes down to it, Hemingway is a million times more interesting than Hadley, which in turn, makes The Paris Wife a bit tedious.  

*Read an excerpt


  1. I definitely like my female characters with a bit more spunk and self-confidence as well. I get frustrated with characters who cannot function without someone else there to help them, so I think this probably isn't the book for me:) Lovely review though Christina!

  2. Thanks for the honest review. I'm with you in that I don't want my female MCs so dependent on the males in their lives that they have no personality outside of their man's attention sphere. So, I don't think I'll be picking this one up.


  3. Jenny- Yeah, that is what drove me nuts about it. I was a bit disappointed. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. This is on my wishlist so I'm thankful for your review. I don't think I can deal with a female lead like this one. Thanks for your honesty.

  5. Terrific post! I love reading authors' stories of their writing experience.

    Marlene Detierro (Fishing Lodges Alaska)


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