It seemed like everyone was talking about The Paris Wife by Paula McClain (who lives in Cleveland! Woot!), but I was hearing very mixed reviews. I am not a Hemingway fan so initially I was uninterested, but once I discovered there were so many differing opinions of the book, and once my friend suggested I would have lots of off-shoot reading based on the events and time period of the book, I decided I should give it a shot.
I loved it. I thought the narrative from Hadley’s point of view was well done– I felt sympathetic to her situation and developed a new interest in Ernest Hemingway. I thought the plot moved along at an appropriate pace, and I thought it had the right amount of setting description as they moved around the Unites States, Canada and Europe to many places I have been.
I didn’t have, and still don’t have, much knowledge of what was taking place in Paris in the 1920s, but I really enjoyed learning about the literary and artistic minds who gathered at that apex, especially from the viewpoint of an individual who was a part of the movement via her spouse, but an objective viewer of the events rather than an involved participant like so many others. The feminine point of view during this period was not only crucial to the story in terms of explaining Hemingway, but in highlighting how society was developing during the jazz era, and even leading up to that point. I was baffled that so many forward-thinking individuals were still considering relationships the way they did, and that the women/wives were discounted and discluded in many instances despite all of their education, strength and substantial support of their significant others’ aspirations.
I also found Hemingway’s development very interesting. While the book is historical fiction, it is based very closely on the true events, as they were recounted in actual letters sent between everyone in the book and known records of the Hemingway’s travels, etc. I had a loose understanding of Hemingway’s background from very basic research I was forced to conduct in high school when my honors classes required readings of A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea, but I did not remember learning about his family– many of whom committed suicide– or about all of his subsequent wives. My knowledge was strung loosely around his involvement in WWI, the loss of his first love, and his passion for his work until the day he committed suicide. This book outlined how he got his start and all the key players, most notably his wife. Although I knew A Farewell to Arms was based on his war experience, I didn’t realize so many of his other novels were based on actual events in his life. The Paris Wife captures the creation of The Sun Also Rises as well as a number of other shorter works, and I’m now interested in reading them.
Reading about the Hemingways’ interactions with Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, the Fitzgeralds, Sherwood Anderson and many others has inspired me to research more about the time period and the other writers’ works as well. I added numerous entries to my GoodReads account as soon as I closed the pages.
It also led me to reminiscence about my own time in Paris, and even Austria, Spain and Canada. The Paris described in the novel was different from most of the touristy aspects of Paris I encountered, but on the days we were able to wander and ramble off the beaten path, we experienced some of the heart of Paris, which I’ve included in the few random photos below: