“Ahead in Paris, it was anyone’s guess how we’d make it, but I couldn’t worry about that. Ernest needed me to be strong for us both now, and I would be. I would scrimp and make do and not resent it at all because it was my choice in the end. I was choosing him, the writer, in Paris. We would never again live a conventional life.“
Paula McLain, The Paris Wife
Today is the pub date for Paula McLain’s novel, The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. The book is 314 pages, and I received an Advanced Reader Copy of it for review from Ballantine. Aside from my keen interest in historical novels, I was especially interested in reading this because my own work in progress is about Hemingway and his second wife in Key West.
The Paris Wife chronicles the courtship, marriage, and divorce of Hemingway and Hadley Richardson. It begins in Chicago in 1920 at a series of house parties where twenty-eight year old Hadley is surprised to find herself admired by a dashing, fearless, young journalist from Oak Park. Though he’s only twenty-one, he’s seen enough of the world through the war to have some maturity.
After hundreds of letters are exchanged at their parting, including his proposal, Ernest and Hadley marry and set off on their adventures through Europe where the dollar goes far, the alcohol flows freely, and there’s no end to the parade of characters whose influence on Hemingway’s life and fiction is vast. The birth of their son, Ernest’s constant struggle to support the family, and the eventual poison of the rich and powerful people to whom they become acquainted succeed in killing the marriage.
The Paris Wife is a tragedy, and Hadley is a likable and sympathetic heroine. McLain’s portrayal of Hadley and Hemingway is wonderfully complex and layered, and deeply reveals their characters. The novel doesn’t vilify Hemingway, nor does it exult him; rather, it objectively lays out the death of their relationship.
McLain is a gifted writer, and Hemingway’s stylistic influence is pervasive through her clean, spare prose. Like Hemingway, however, her themes and meanings are deeply felt and resound long after the words are read.
McLain establishes herself as a formidable historical novelist with The Paris Wife. I look forward to more from this gifted writer.