Sunday, February 26, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Paris Wife narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

Guest-reviewer Kirsten reviewed this for us in June, 2011, and Christine-Chioma also reviewed the book yesterday

Wedding of Ernest and Hadley
Reviewed by Connie

Published: 2011

It's about: This recent historical fiction memoir tells the story of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their doomed 5-year marriage. It follows Hemingway from a nobody in Chicago to an up-and-coming writer in Paris in the 1920s. We also catch glimpses of some of the Hemingways' famous friends, like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald.

I thought: I listened to this in audiobook format via my recent membership (see the banner in the sidebar), and the first thing I had to get over was the narrator's voice. Though I grew somewhat used to her by the end, I was vexed by her presentation of Hadley's voice. It was one part whiny toddler, one part annoying mother baby-talking to that whiny toddler. Combine this with the fact that for the first half of the book, Hadley is as weak and annoying as those voices sound, and I had a rough time getting into it.

In fact, this audiobook made me consider my expectations for characters and how they affect my opinions of the book. Especially recently, I find that I grow annoyed with weak female characters. I want them all to be strong, solid, independent, and in the beginning, Hadley is anything but. She is needy and naive and sickeningly willing to fall into the background of Hemingway's life, and that made me despise her. Now, whether or not that's fair, or whether that's reason to not like a book, I'll have to save that discussion for another day.

Toward the middle of the novel, though, Hadley begins to change. There is one line in the book (I can't quote it exactly, as I don't have a hard copy) when someone refers to her as "Ernest's Hadley" and she says, "Maybe I'm my own Hadley." In a world of flappers and drunkards and "modern women" with bobs and short hemlines, Hadley remains her same old-fashioned self, still stuck on her long hair and her out-of-fashion clothes and her out-dated writers. But by the end of the novel, it becomes clear that though Hadley is no modern woman, she is ever the stronger for resisting the trend.

The book's beginnings sound like a bad romance novel, enhanced by MacDuffie's annoying voice for Hadley, full of "He held me close to him, and I wondered if he could feel my heart beating"s, but the novel follows the curve of the Hemingway's relationship, and by the end, I can comfortably say it is a natural and accurate progression. After all, I suppose we are all in a kind of bad romance novel when we first fall in love.

The writing is sometimes cliche (like the romance in the beginning) but sometimes really beautiful. MacDuffie's narration grew less annoying to me as well, so by the end, it was not a bad audiobook after all.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf

Reading Recommendations: There's an interesting article on this book over at the Guardian, written by a writer who was named after Hadley. It's worth a read. Also, check out Ingrid's review of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's memoir about this same time in his life. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to start reading A Moveable Feast pretty soon, to get Hemingway's perspective.

Warnings: some drunkenness and other lasciviousness

What I'm reading next: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows