The Paris Wife is one of those novels that grabbed hold of me right from the start and never let go. The story starts in the midwest in the early 1920’s, where a young Ernest Hemingway meets and falls for Hadley Richardson, a woman 7 years his senior. I’ve always loved the 20’s — such a culturally revolutionary time for the U.S., so that was probably what first drew me to the story (that and — Paris).
When I’m reading a book, I don’t like spoilers. I want to be carried away by the story, not knowing which way it’s going to turn, and not allowing myself any preconceived notions about the characters’ actions or the results of them. But this book is based on the premise of a spoiler. Hadley was Hemingway’s first wife. It was with her that he spent those years in Paris living that life that is so mythically well-known as an artist expat along with James Joyce, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, who all appear in the novel as well.
Knowing that this was a novel about his “first wife,” I knew the marriage was doomed. Reading it with that knowledge, the relationship seemed even sweeter, because the fragility of a marriage was in my mind the whole time.
In addition, armed with the sad truth that Hemingway eventually took his own life, the darkness in him also served as a type of foreshadowing throughout.
When I think of Ernest Hemingway, I think of big fish and war. I’m not particularly fond of fishing or fighting, so needless to say, I haven’t read any Hemingway since my obligatory reading of The Old Man and The Sea in high school. You don’t have to have any interest in Hemingway to enjoy this book.
That said, after reading The Paris Wife, and after recently learning to appreciate short stories, I checked out a short story collection of Hemingway’s from the library hope to add to my understanding of Hemingway as a writer (since there’s a lot of talk in the plot of the novel about his style and craft).
A Moveable Feast is his memoir of this time in his life, and I think that I might want to check it out as well to see how his own memories stack up.
The Paris Wife is written in first person, almost as if it’s Hadley’s own memoir, because it is told with flashes of hindsight that only come once we’ve experienced a situation and learned from it. But regardless of how accurate (or not) this fictional portrayal of Hemingway’s time in Paris is, The Paris Wife is a stellar novel, and I give it 5 Stars (check out our page with all the best of the best).
It’s the kind of novel that carried me away as I quickly became immersed in the setting, characters and dramatic tension.
A few years ago Jennifer Donovan visited Paris. Although she did not see it through the same booze-soaked eyes as the partying expats of Hemingway’s generation, she fell in love. She blogs about her family, travel, and books at Snapshot.
This review and others are linked to Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books.
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Oh, I hope to someday lay my own eyes (booze-soaked or not!) on Paris! 🙂 I absolutely agree with you about the appeal of reading about the 20s, and you’ve certainly made this sound like one I want to read. 🙂
You will LOVE “A Moveable Feast!” I’ve been wanting to read “A Paris Wife”, and knowing you enjoyed it only makes me want to read it more.
Me, too!I just started reading The Paris Wife and am smitten! I was never a Hemingway fan until I read A Moveable Feast…which you must read! If you liked The Paris Wife this much, I am sure you will enjoy Hemingway’s perspective of that time period. Even just partway into The Paris Wife, I cannot believe how wonderfully authentic the author has made Hadley’s voice. I daresay I won’t put the book down until finished today…
It WAS definitely that type of book.
We just hard part of an interview with the author on NPR this weekend. Sounds like a really fascinating book!
And I… have seen the Eiffel tower from the air and been in the Charles de Gaulle airport (horrid), but never really been to Paris either. 🙁 Someday…
I’m waiting for “again,” but someday is a good goal too. And I do remember the airport as being not quite so user friendly!!
A fellow book club member just picked this book for our group to read in June. After reading your review, I am wishing it was picked to be read in April instead. I guess I will just need to exercise some patience, June is only a few months away.
I just finished The Paris Wife and absolutely LOVED it! I wish I belonged to a book group because I would enjoy leading a discussion on it. Now I’m searching for any and all info regarding Hem & Hadleys extended family. So interesting and very intriguing.
I agree. It’s very discussable! And I too got a book of Hemingway short stories, but never read any (and now it’s sitting here collecting library overdue fines)