If you like: Hemingway * marriage * historical fiction
The Paris Wife is the story of Hadley Hemingway, primarily focusing on her relationship with her husband. It describes their meeting, their life together, and their eventual separation. The story is told primarily through Hadley’s perspective, with a few chapters from Ernest’s perspective. Though the story is fiction, it is inspired by the words of Hadley and Ernest in their personal writings.
In spite of being the protagonist, Hadley is a largely unsympathetic character. She has allowed others to dictate nearly her entire existence. She has no passions, hobbies, or interests. Her entire life is dedicated to supporting her husband’s career. Though this full support and devotional could be admirable, it comes across as almost manic. She never comes across as making a sacrifice, since she seems to wholeheartedly believe her purpose is to support her husband. It is by no means right that Hemingway largely ignores her wants and needs, but it is difficult, even for the reader, to know what those are. It is easy to see how her love for Hemingway could lead her to subjugate herself for his future, but desire beyond receiving love and attention from Hemingway is largely missing. Had Hadley desired more for herself, this could have been a much more compelling story.
McLain has done a commendable job weaving a sense of dread and unraveling throughout the novel. The good times are fleeting, and the bad permeate the Hemingways’ interactions. Both have a longing to be a part of something grand, and feel the strong distinction when they are on the outskirts of society. Familial relationships are part of the core of The Paris Wife. Both Hadley and Ernest come from difficult family situations, with a pattern of suicide. The distance they put between themselves and their own families is reflected in the distance that Ernest puts between himself and his own household as he pursues success. The resulting divorce is telegraphed from the outset, but seeing all the pieces come together to complete the picture will cause the reader to wonder why anyone would spend time with Ernest in the first place.
If you put career success over marital love, read The Paris Wife.
McLain, Paula. The Paris Wife. New York: Random House, Inc., 2011. Kindle Edition.