The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

I have got really, really behind with writing up my reviews and I am doing my best to catch up this week before Christmas!  I actually read ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McClain about three weeks ago.  It is a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson told from her point of view after a whirlwind romance and their life together in the 1920s before he found worldwide fame as a writer.

When I first started reading this, I wondered why a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s time in Paris was really necessary.  So much has already been written about his life, his diaries and letters are routinely pored over by scholars and virtually every aspect of his work has been analysed to death.  But although there is nothing very new or radical or even particularly original in Paula McClain’s account of what may or may not have really happened between Ernest and Hadley, I found her take on events to be quite moving.  Above all, ‘The Paris Wife’ is a story about a relationship breakdown and the fame of the characters seems to become largely irrelevant in some ways.  The way McClain builds up the tension in the marriage and the growing sense of resentment and bitterness on both sides is very well done in spite of the reader knowing that it is doomed from the beginning.  The author is, however, better at building atmosphere than she is at controlling pace, as the middle was quite slow.

Given the title of the book, I was expecting the majority if not all of it to be set in Paris.  In fact, ‘The Paris Wife’ actually covers most of Hadley’s early life and the many other places where she lived and travelled to with Ernest during their short marriage.  McClain has clearly done a lot of research and provides a factually accurate (as far as I know) and convincing account of events.  I’m not sure if experts and die-hard fans of Hemingway would like it but for anyone interested in the 1920s, Paris or Hemingway’s life, ‘The Paris Wife’ is worth a read.


Filed under Books

11 responses to “The Paris Wife by Paula McClain

  1. Interesting. I’ve been intrigued by Hemmingway’s time in Cuba as my parents live there and he was an honorary Cuban at that time. Thanks for posting this review.


  2. I reviewed The Paris Wife a couple of months ago. I read for my book club. I didn’t really like it. I figured why write a fictional acoount when so many books have been written about Hemingway. I felt it was written to appeal to the masses. However, McClain’s writing style is emotional and very beautiful. I could feel she has a slight crush on Hemingway because of the way she depicts the young Hemingway in the Paris Wife. I do agree with concerning the pace. A few of the members found the book boring and said that it was a little too slow for them. As a whole we decided to eventually read A Moveable Feast since it was Hemingways writing on his marriage with Hadley. Have you read it yet? It’s on my TBR. What did you think about the ending? I felt it was rushed and that poor Hadley was once again overshadowed. Thanks for the review.


  3. This one has been on my ‘To read’ list for so long – it was recommended to me by someone who likes the same books as I do – fingers crossed I enjoy it!


  4. markharwoodwriter

    Because Hemingway is so enjoyable to read, I’ve never thought to read anything creative about him, but your review might swing me that direction. That this is a moving novel, as you suggest, intrigues me. Much of the biographical fiction I’ve read iss stilted, and critics raved about the Hemingway character in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but I thought it came off as a caricature. This sounds like a worthwhile portrayal. Thanks for the thorough review.


  5. I loved this book. I could actually imagine Hadley’s feelings – author did a great job… it was worth the read!


  6. A friend at work just lent me a copy and I wasn’t sure at first if I felt like giving it a go, but I think I will now. Sounds like it could be interesting, especially if the atmosphere is interesting, since that is one of my favorite things about reading. Thanks!


  7. Pingback: The Paris Wife by Paula McClain | mykentuckyliving

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