Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

Guest review by Kirsten. Find out more about Kirsten and read her review of Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys here.

Published: 2011

It’s about: Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife tells the fascinating story of Hadley Richardson, a 28 year old woman, who meets and marries the considerably younger and truly dashing Ernest Hemingway. Although he wed several times in his life, this first marriage had a profound influence on his early work as well as a cause for reflection and tribute in his final work, A Moveable Feast. In Paris, the Hemingways develop close and important relationships with writers and artists like Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and Sherwood Anderson. When they first cross the Atlantic, Ernest Hemingway is another fledgling writer, virtually unknown. With Hadley’s support and encouragement, and the rich artistic environment surrounding them, he gradually gains recognition. As Hemingway’s fame steadily increases, his marriage begins to fall apart. Although they love each other, Hadley cannot share her husband’s attention and affection which becomes expected in their Parisian milieu. Ultimately, they let each other go.

I thought: This book contained everything I love–historical fiction, Paris in the 1920’s, literary superstars, European travel, and a dash of romance. McClain beautifully represents the tender relationship between Hemingway and his “Paris Wife” as well as the slow demise of their marriage. With McClain’s guidance, it’s not difficult to see why this seminal relationship was important to Ernest Hemingway until the end of his life. I could not put this book down. I particularly loved how McClain craftily evokes Hemingway’s novels throughout the book, although the story is revealed primarily in Hadley’s voice. At its core, it really is her story. When I finished, I pored over the Random House website for clues to McClain’s research and writing process. Much to my delight, the website includes an author Q&A, numerous photos of 1920’s Paris (including locations specifically mentioned in the novel,) author videos, and a reading group guide complete with recipes. Working at an independent bookstore, I know that this book is all the rage with book groups right now. For good reason, I absolutely loved it.

Verdict: Put it on the shelf!

Reading recommendations: This book is a great complement to Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms.

Warnings: Sexual content and mild profanity.

Favorite excerpts:
“He often said he’d died in the war, just for a moment; that his soul had left his body like a silk handkerchief, slipping out and levitating over his chest. It had returned without being called back, and I often wondered if writing for him was a way of knowing his soul was there after all, back in its place. Of saying to himself, if not to anyone else, that he had seen what he’d seen and felt those terrible things and lived anyway.”

“To marry was to say you believed in the future and in the past, too–that history and tradition and hope could stay knit together to hold you up.”

“For the first few days, I enjoyed my solitude. Ernest was such a big person, metaphorically speaking. He took up all the air in the room and magnetized and drew everyone to him, men and women and children and dogs. For the first time in many months, I could wake to quiet and hear my own thoughts and follow my own impulses. But soon enough there was a shift. I don’t know how to describe it, but after the blush of my own company wore off, I become so aware of Ernest’s absence it was as if the lack of him had moved into the apartment with me. His shadow was there at breakfast and at bedtime. It hung from the curtains in the bedroom where the accordion music pushed in and out like a bellows.”