Paula McLain's The Paris Wife tells the tale of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. The novel is best described as Chicago, Part I and Paris, Part II. All is well in Chicago, but as soon as the couple treks over to the land of crepes, macaroons, and impossibly gorgeous, thin women, their little team breaks apart with the help of Pauline Pfeiffer, wife number two and every woman’s worst nightmare.
As Hadley falls in love with Hemingway, the reader struggles to look past clichés, confusing storylines, and dialogue so cheesy that McLain can put Papa John’s out of business. If you can brush past all of that, though, there is beauty in the novel. McLain has a way with words and can describe situations and feelings like no one else. This extraordinary talent is hidden under the bramble of a story of a woman who was too slow on the uptake.
I must confess that it is difficult for me to discern whether my unpleasant feelings are solely the result of the reality of the story. Perhaps my sentiments are shaped by Hadley’s naiveté. The reader can count on one pattern throughout the novel: Hadley will always turn a blind eye when it comes to her Hemingway. The man can do no wrong in her eyes. Allowing his mistress to sleep next to him while he naps with his wife? Sure. Carrying on an affair for years? No problem.
The first half of the book is good. McLain’s imagery is excellent, and I wish I had an ounce of her talent.
You might like this book if you have read Hemingway, or if you are interested in Paris during the 1920s.