four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Paula McLain
user_rating: 
0

A-The Paris WifePaula McClain, the author of two collections of poetry and a memoir, fictionalizes the relationship between Ernest and Hadley Hemingway in her debut novel.

The Story: In 1920 Chicago, Hadley Richardson, then 28, sheltered, and on the cusp of spinsterhood, meets Ernest Hemingway--handsome, charismatic, and eight years her junior--and is immediately smitten. After a dizzying courtship and marriage, the two set off for glittering Jazz-Age Paris, where they soon become part of the Lost Generation of expatriate writers and artists. As Ernest befriends Gertrude Stein and the Fitzgeralds, among others, Hadley struggles to maintain her own identity. But their marriage starts to unravel after the birth of their child, and Ernest starts an affair with a woman who will become the second of his four wives. In this tale of passion, artistic inspiration, and betrayal, Ernest admits in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, "I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but [Hadley]."
Ballantine Books. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780345521309

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"I am happy to report that McLain has brought Hadley to life in a novel that begins in a rush of early love and becomes stronger until its heartbreaking end. ... [W]ithin the boundaries of a story based on reality McLain has given us a moving portrait of a woman slighted by history, a woman whose sad, perplexing story needed to be told, and whose triumph over it later in a happier marriage is also related with precision and grace." Roberta Silman

Cleveland Plain Dealer HHHH
"Paula McLain has chosen a rich--and true--story to mine for her investigation of a relationship. ... McLain is masterful at mining Hadley's confusion and pain, her crushing realization that she cannot fight for a love that has already disappeared." Nancy Connors

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Paula McLain's vivid, clear-voiced novel is a conjecture, an act of imaginary autobiography on the part of the author. Yet her biographical and geographical research is so deep, and her empathy for the real Hadley Richardson so forthright (without being intrusively femme partisan), that the account reads as very real indeed." Lisa Schwarzbaum

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Sure, purists and scholars will be wary of a fictional reenactment of the marriage, but McLain's gangbusters writing forces doubts to dissolve by page three. ... Thankfully, the downward slope of The Paris Wife creates the kind of out-of-body reading experience that dedicated book lovers yearn for, nearly as good as reading Hemingway for the first time--and it doesn't get much better than that." Andrea Hoag

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Women and book groups are going to eat up this novel, but some members may be hating Ernest by the time the last wine glass is drained. Which isn't really fair. McLain pulls off a delicate balancing act, making the macho Hemingway of myth a complex and sympathetic figure." Jocelyn McClurg

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Ms. McLain's Hadley, when not in big-league company that overshadows her, isn't a subtly drawn character. ... This novel draws heavily on research, but it does so in confounding ways." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Critics praised The Paris Wife for rounding out the portrait of Hadley Hemingway, often overlooked in scholarly treatments of Hemingway and, in fact, in Hemingway's own works. In McClain's deft hands, Hadley, who narrates her love, confusion, struggles, and wavering support for her husband, comes alive amidst evocative, excellently researched descriptions of Left Bank cafes, culture, and artistic life. A few reviewers commented that Ernest's artistic and literary coterie often overshadows the more plainspoken Hadley, but only the New York Times voiced serious complaints about a plodding narrative and a dull protagonist. But in this nuanced, balanced portrait of a marriage, McClain reclaims Hadley's place as both a wife and a woman in history.