BookBrowse Reviews The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

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The Paris Wife

A Novel

by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2012, 352 pages

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A fictional exploration of the passionate and ill-fated marriage between Hadley Richardson and the legendary Ernest Hemingway

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. Here's what they have to say:

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. The author stays true to history while finding truth and poignancy in Hadley's voice. While I didn't always agree with her decisions, she is astonishingly real on these pages (Michele J). Perhaps the author's greatest strength is that her writing style is much like Hemingway's - crisp, clear, and concise (Mary S). Upon completing the novel, I found myself wondering if Hemingway would have persevered during his early years to become the writer we know today if he hadn't been married to Hadley. I found the book fascinating (Rosemary T). A must-read for all Hemingway fans and a great introduction for those who are not acquainted with his tragic story (Mary S). I highly recommend this book, and I would also recommend reading The Garden of Eden; it's not one of Hemingway's best-known novels, but I believe it echoes - from his point of view - the story of this marriage (Linda P).

Some readers enjoyed traveling into 1920s Paris and mingling with the writers of "The Lost Generation":
McLain does an excellent job of setting the scene - first in the U.S. and later in Europe. The best parts of the book are the descriptions of Paris, where artists and writers form a united, if unstable, group of friends (Sandra H). Reading about American Expats in 1920s Paris alone was worth the read (Leann A). 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). I could not put this book down! I felt like I was sitting in cafés in Paris with Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and the famous couple F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. My book clubs can't wait for the release of this novel (Sharon S).

Other readers were intrigued by the tumultuous marriage between Hadley and an unstable Ernest Hemingway:
It was like reading an elaborately written diary where you are let in on secrets and private matters as uncomfortable and sad as they could be. Not quite on par with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan but a satisfying read nonetheless (Martha P). By the end of the book I was completely caught up in the saga of a fascinating though difficult relationship (Linda P). While Hemingway is certainly one of the literary giants of the 20th century, he plainly suffers from toxic selfishness, and Hadley suffers at his notion of marriage and stability. I highly recommend this book, not only for the story, but for the author's obvious writing talent (Marjorie H).

However, some readers were unable to connect with McLain's novel:
The Paris Wife was a disappointment to me. None of the characters, especially Hemingway and Hadley, came alive. The relaxed pace of the book never gained enough speed to capture the excitement of running with the bulls in Pamplona nor the intensity of 1920s Paris when many of the most important literary figures of all time gathered. McLain uses reliable research sources for her fictional account of their marriage, and the reader would be better off sticking with those sources than reading The Paris Wife (Susan H). In terms of being emotionally engaging, the book fell a little flat for me. Some of it seemed like a laundry list of facts about Hadley's and Ernest's lives: where they lived, what they ate and drank, and who they saw (Liz C). While the novel was slow-moving at times and a bit repetitious, it was ultimately saved by the first-person narrative as told by Hadley (Martha P). While I liked the book, I didn't love the book. To me the characters were stiff, with the exception of Ernest who came away as a most selfish man. I felt deeply sorry for Hadley and her life with Hemingway (AzKate).

But overall, most BookBrowse readers were as delighted with The Paris Wife as Jill S:
Paula McLain sympathetically captures Hadley Richardson's voice in this highly addictive, page-turning debut. She pushes deep into the lives of her characters while remaining true to the facts. I found this to be a fascinating book, which has compelled me to re-read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which also examines those years. Recommended highly for any Hemingway fan or anyone who is seeking an in-depth look at a complicated marriage in the 1920s.

...And for a readers' guide to The Paris Wife, including questions about the book, recipes and even cocktails inspired by Hemingway, click here!

This review was originally published in March 2011, and has been updated for the November 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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