Monday Night Book Club: The Paris Wife

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by Abigail Fisher

Expatriate Ernest Hemingway will best be remembered for his pioneering literary style and stalwart novels. His first wife on the other hand is little more than a biographic footnote. Until reading Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, I had no real consideration for the man behind the novels, much less the woman behind that man. His works themselves were ambiguous entities, miraculous conceptions rather than authored works. The Paris Wife opened my eyes to how literature is created through the life experience of an author, not simply cultured from random musings.

 Told from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, The Paris Wife illuminates the tumultuous relationship that led her to personal discovery and eventually jaded marriage. Hemingway swept her off her feet in Chicago and then rushed his newly married bride to Paris, leaving behind everything and everyone they knew. His career began quickly, surrounded by literary greats like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The more popular Hemingway became with these Parisian artists, the more Hadley became obsolete to Hemingway’s ideals of voyeur and freedom.
To be perfectly frank, The Paris Wife made neither Hadley nor Ernest great heroes in my eyes. Ernest was a philandering narcissist, obsessed with his work (perhaps rightfully so) who took a wife with no regard as to what marriage really meant. Hadley bowed to Ernest’s whims, had no concept of herself without dependence on Ernest and took years to realize the futility of her marriage. Though the insight into this famous couple was interesting, I found the narrative voice self-pitying and slightly depressing. I would recommend The Paris Wife for those interested in learning more of Hemingway’s biography in a light sort of way. Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris  would serve as a great movie pairing, as many of the literary characters overlap. I find it fascinating to compare two different authors’ concepts of artists long dead. Though I am lukewarm on the style of the novel, the story of The Paris Wife is a fantastic oneIf nothing else, read it for the unique insight it gives into Hemingway’s writing.

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