Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

In the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris, Ernest Hemingway talks in clichés as he tosses his lovely hair out of his eyes. In The Paris Wife Hemingway also speaks in clichés, but whereas in the movie you know it’s all a joke, in the book it’s supposed to be serious dialogue. The Paris Wife and Midnight in Paris have a lot in common; both describe Hemingway and his circle in Paris in the 1920’s through the eyes of outsiders. In the movie, the outsider is the time travelling writer Gil. In the book, it’s Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson.

Hadley Richardson was Hemingway’s starter wife and they divorced after seven years of marriage and one child. Hadley was frumpy and domestic and she married Hemingway when she almost 30 and he was only 21. They seem mismatched from the start though you do get the sense that Hemingway, fresh from WWI, needed nurturing and Hadley was a nurturer. The book covers Ernest and Hadley’s years together and ends when he leaves Hadley for wife #2 (with a short epilogue that tells us that Hadley later found happiness with a man who was far more reliable than Ernest). Even though this is a novel it apparently sticks closely to the facts and uses characters’ real names.

It’s the atmosphere that makes this book fun to read, in the same way that Midnight in Paris was fun to watch even though the premise was just dumb. I pictured all the characters in the book as they looked in the movie. Thus in my head Gertrude Stein looked like Kathy Bates, and the Fitzgeralds looked like those two lovely actors whose picture I’ve posted on my Pinterest board. Unfortunately there wasn’t complete overlap and the movie never shows Ernest with Hadley. Nevertheless I pictured her looking like Mariel Hemingway, whose real-life grandmother was Hadley Richardson.

(Book 32, 2011)


Anonymous said...

I'm not necessarily a fan of Hemingway's but I am dying to read this book!

LINDA from Each Little World said...

I laughed out loud at some of the dialog; it was so cliched! But it did send me off to read another book by someone in the same circle talking about the same time in Paris. But after a while, I realized I already know more than I need to and just couldn't finish that one. I have always been a big Fitzgerald fan and never could get into Hemingway. And what I've read recently makes it unlikely that I will make the effort. (I loved the Woody Allen movie!)

Amused said...

I listened to this book on audio and for me the second half just dragged because I knew what the outcome would be. I think it may have been better in print!

Nicola said...

I almost bought this after hearing a readio adaption, but didn't in the end because I'm not sure that I like fictional recreations of real lives. I'll wait for the paperback.

Sarah Laurence said...

I loved the movie Midnight in Paris, but this book sounds less appealing. My mother got it as a gift, and she quit reading due to the poor writing.

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