Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain ****

I needed a new book to read, something recent that looked good.  I can't remember where I saw this book listed, maybe on the New York Times bestsellers list, but the idea of reading a pseudo-memoir about Hemingway's first wife was intriguing. 

Hadley Richardson was from my hometown, St. Louis, and was considered a spinster at age 28 when she met Ernest Hemingway.  He was 21 and just starting his writing career, not yet the man he would later become.  They fell in love, married, and moved to Paris so Ernest could be where all the great writers of the age were:  Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and more.  There they lived for several years in what for Hadley was marital bliss, but for Ernest became a tightening noose around his neck. 

I appreciated this book on several different levels, one of which was the character of Hadley herself.  I've seen that many people who've reviewed it thought that Hadley was a wimpy character, but I found her to be quite real.  She was the only person in a circle of very bright stars that wasn't a writer and wasn't trying to be famous in some way.  She was very ordinary, and as a rather ordinary person myself I liked her.  It was as though she were trying very hard to not be eaten alive by the people around her, and somehow she came out the other end intact. 

I would like to read The Sun Also Rises now since Hemingway's life while writing it was the model for this book.  And my husband's favorite Hemingway book, Islands in the Stream, would be good to read also--it has so much to do with Ernest looking back on his life and his wives with regret and longing.  And it's obvious that though she wasn't a flashy flapper, a love-starved socialite, or a petulant  beauty queen, Hadley in many ways was the love of his life and an anchor that he lost and never could find again.

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