The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

Prior to reading this novel (which was almost impossible to put down), I didn’t know very much about Ernest Hemingway. Years ago I had watched and enjoyed the film In Love and War with Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock which was based on the relationship between Hemingway and his nurse during WWI. Randomly the only other thing I knew was that Hemingway had liked to use a moleskin notebook for his writing – but that was about it. He was one of those on my very long list of authors to read one day. After reading The Paris Wife I’m intrigued and am going to read something of his very soon. I’m hoping I like his writing as much as I liked reading about him.

The Paris Wife is a novel written from the point of view of Hemingway’s first wife Hadley (great name) and is set mostly in Paris during the early years of their marriage when Hemingway was beginning to establish himself as a writer. The time period was the 1920’s, the people they met in the cafes and salons of Paris included F Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox and Gertrude Stein. One really fun aspect of the book for me was the ambience Paula McLain recreated and imagining these as then unknown people hanging out drinking, debating, writing and drinking… and drinking… I wonder what their lives would have been like without the alchohol.

As Hadley was the first of Hemingway’s four wives, we know this is not likely to be a story with a happy ending – from Hadley’s point of view at least but there is a real feeling of respect and love between the two of them, even after she has been betrayed and their marriage is sadly ending.

I was so wrapped up in the story that I kept forgetting it wasn’t Hadley herself that had written the book. By chance I saw an interview with Paula McLain on The Book Show immediately after finishing the book. I liked the author, she had obviously done a lot of research and really cared about Hadley’s story.

And what of Hemingway – how is he portrayed? Ambitious, talented, selfish, ruthless, vulnerable, loving, immature, unfaithful, insecure, regretful.

I’m excited by all the follow on reading from here – Hemingway’s thoughts on the same time period are covered in his small book A Moveable Feast, published after his death. His first novel The Sun Also Rises is set around the bullfighting scene in Pamplona, something Hemingway loved and he and Hadley spent several summers enjoying. A Farewell to Arms is a novel set during WWI in the years prior to he and Hadley meeting. For now though it’s F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which I started this morning.

This was my first read on kindle which was a birthday present from my bethrothed last week. My first experience of reading on the kindle has been a great one, it was my constant companion for several days last week with a lot of screen flicking going on.

2011, 400 pages

11 responses to “The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

  1. The Paris Wife sounds very interesting indeed! I’m afraid I know even less of Hemingway, so it might do me good to pick up something about him!
    As for reading it on the kindle – are you a convert?

    • TheBookGatherer – ah the kindle question… I couldn’t ever give up paper books but I think the kindle is really convenient and would be great for holidays. Very tempting to be able to buy a book and be reading it in a few minutes and very challenging for my bank balance!

  2. I recently won this book on Laurel-Rain Snow’s book blog. Now I am even more eager to receive and read it!

  3. I’ve been hearing so mant good things about The Paris Wife, I’m so bummed I haven’t been able to track down a copy (my library says they’re pulling it ILL, but who really knows, hehe)! But it sounds delightful, and think you should really give A Farewell to Arms when you finish your Fitzy (F.Scott and I are on pretty close terms… :D)

    • Chelsea – I got stuck on the train for nearly an hour and a half today so your mate Fitzy and I are nearly done! Thanks for the recommendation for A Farewell to Arms, I will definitely keep that in mind. I haven’t read a lot of recent reviews for Ernest (keeping on familiar terms!) Best of luck in tracking The Paris Wife down 0:)

  4. Your review of this is so inspiring! I could feel your enthusiasm just emanating from the page. Like you, I didn’t know much about Hemingway other than what what required reading for High School. I tihink that’s often wasted on High School students; what can they appreciate about love and war and hunting and age and all the adult things Hemingway writes about? The Old Man and The Sea for a Senior boy? I think not. Anyway, we went to Hemingway’s house in Key West, and my interest was all rekindled, only not so much as by your post. Let’s read more Hemingway together, shall we? Any ideas of one you’d like to pick up next? Email me, if you’d like. (

    • Bellezza,

      Thank you! How lovely that you had the opportunity to go and visist Hemingway’s house. I don’t think he was even on my school reading list – so totally new to me. Yes, let’s definitely read some more together – how exciting. I will email you 0:)

  5. I love your blog and loved this book. Do read Hemingway’s work, it is amazing! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the books you read.

  6. Pingback: A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway « A Book Sanctuary

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