Summary and book reviews of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife

A Novel

By Paula McLain

The Paris Wife
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Feb 2011,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2012,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

ONE

The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes and say, "It's possible I'm too drunk to judge, but you might have something there."

It's October 1920 and jazz is everywhere. I don't know any jazz, so I'm playing Rachmaninoff. I can feel a flush beginning in my cheeks from the hard cider my dear pal Kate Smith has stuffed down me so I'll relax. I'm getting there, second by second. It starts in my fingers, warm and loose, and moves along my nerves, rounding through me. I haven't been drunk in over a year--not since my mother fell seriously ill--and I've missed the way it comes with its own perfect glove of fog, settling snugly and beautifully over my brain. I don't want to think and I don't want to feel, either, unless it's as simple as this beautiful boy's knee inches from mine.

The knee is nearly enough on its own, but there's a whole package of a man attached, tall and lean, with a lot of very dark hair and a dimple in his left cheek you could fall into. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In many ways, Hadley's girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer her that she hasn't encountered before? What are the risks?
  2. Hadley and Ernest don't get a lot of encouragement from their friends and family when they decided to marry. What seems to draw the two together? What are some of the strengths of their initial attraction and partnership? The challenges?
  3. The Ernest Hemingway we meet in The Paris Wife - through Hadley's eyes - is in many ways different from the ways we imagine him when faced with the largeness of his later persona. What do you see as his character strengths? Can ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

With 20 out of 22 reviewers rating it 4 or 5 stars, The Paris Wife is a clear favorite amongst BookBrowse readers, and has inspired many to revisit classic works by Ernest Hemingway.

Paula McLain sympathetically captures Hadley Richardson's voice in this highly addictive, page-turning debut. She pushes deep in to the lives of her characters while remaining true to the facts (Jill S). The narrative is very compelling! I was hooked by the first chapter and it never let up, and despite knowing how the marriage ended, I was riveted (Michele J). Perhaps the author's greatest strength is that her writing style is much like Hemingway's - crisp, clear, and concise (Mary S). I felt I was living in this unstable world and sympathized with Hadley as she watched her marriage fall apart while Ernest became more and more concerned with his own reputation and with fitting into a world that she could not accept. If for no other reason, the novel is worth reading for taking us back to a time many of us know little about (Sandra H).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (1208 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Mary Chapin Carpenter, singer and songwriter
After nearly a century, there is a reason that the Lost Generation and Paris in the 1920's still fascinate. It was a unique intersection of time and place, people and inspiration, romance and intrigue, betrayal and tragedy. The Paris Wife brings that era to life through the eyes of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, who steps out of the shadows as the first wife of Ernest, and into the reader's mind, as beautiful and as luminous as those extraordinary days in Paris after the Great War.

Author Blurb Nancy Horan, bestselling author of Loving Frank
The Paris Wife is mesmerizing. Hadley Hemingway's voice, lean and lyrical, kept me in my seat, unable to take my eyes and ears away from these young lovers. Paula McLain is a first-rate writer who creates a world you don't want to leave. I loved this book

Author Blurb Sarah Blake, New York Times bestselling author of The Postmistress
Despite all that has been written about Hemingway by others and by the man himself, the magic of The Paris Wife is that this Hemingway and this Paris, as imagined by Paula McLain, ring so true I felt as if I was eavesdropping on something new. As seen by the sure and steady eye of his first wife, Hadley, here is the spectacle of the man becoming the legend set against the bright jazzed heat of Paris in the 20s. As much about life and how we try and catch it as it is about love even as it vanishes, this is an utterly absorbing novel.

Publishers Weekly

...[A] vivid addition to the complex-woman-behind-the-legendary-man genre...The historical figure cameos sometimes come across as gimmicky, but the heart of the story - Ernest and Hadley's relationship - gets an honest reckoning...

Booklist

Much more than a "woman-behind-the-man" homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Colorful details of the expat life in Jazz Age Paris, combined with the evocative story of the Hemingways’ romance, result in a compelling story that will undoubtedly establish McLain as a writer of substance.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An imaginative, elegantly written look inside the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.

The Los Angeles Times

The problem with this book-length swoon is that writer and reader overlook cliché after cliché, pedestrian writing and overpowering sentiment.

The New York Times

Get ready for abundant debate on issues raised by The Paris Wife, because what it lacks in style is made up for in staying power. This is a work of literary tourism that expertly flatters its reader. It invokes an artist-packed Paris where "nearly anyone might feel like a painter."

The Chicago Sun-Times

McLain recreates the well-trodden territory of the Lost Generation with more skill and effect than anything written in recent years.

Entertainment Weekly

By making the ordinary come to life, McLain has written a beautiful portrait of being in Paris in the glittering 1920s — as a wife and one's own woman. Grade: A-

Reader Reviews
melissa

lovely
The Times called Hadley boring at times, but that is incorrect.The book is a perfect portrayal of how a narcissist thinks. Nothing this man says to his supposed love has anything whatsoever to do with HER. It is always about HIM right down to how she...   Read More

Martha P. (Issaquah, WA)

An American girl in Paris
Paula McLain's story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife, gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at the very early days in Hemingway's career and the social scene in Paris with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, etc. ...   Read More

Liz C. (Portage, MI)

The Paris Wife
I enjoyed Paula McLain’s poetic depiction of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway’s years as a married couple in Paris. The cast of characters is an interesting one and reading about their exploits is intriguing. In terms of being emotionally engaging, the ...   Read More

Michele J. (Gig Harbor, WA)

Fascinating portrait
A novel written in first-person narrative from the point of view of Hadley Hemingway, Earnest Hemingway's first wife. Hadley married Earnest when he was a young, unknown, aspiring writer and gave up her life in the States to move to Paris with him ...   Read More

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Hemingway's Leading Ladies

Paula McLain's novel, The Paris Wife, centers on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. However, over the course of his life (1899-1961) Ernest Hemingway married four different women, each unique and interesting in her own right:

Elizabeth Hadley Richardson Elizabeth Hadley Richardson: Born on November 9, 1891, Hadley was raised in a rather cheerless household. She suffered a serious injury as a child when she fell out of a second-story window, putting her in the hospital for months and igniting her mother's overprotection. This, plus the suicide of her father when she was 12, contributed to Hadley's severe shyness, and she sought refuge from her difficult childhood in music. After her mother's death, Hadley ...

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