Monday, August 27, 2012

294 (2012 #39). The Paris Wife

by Paula McLain,
read by Carrington MacDuffie

Hadley Richardson is 28 when she meets 21-year-old Ernest Hemingway in Chicago in 1920. She’s lived a rather sheltered life in St. Louis, caring for her dying mother, and is swept away by the dynamic and confident wanna-be writer. They marry and move to Paris, because one of Ernest’s mentors says it’s the place for young writers to be (as well as a relatively inexpensive to live, post-World War I).

Indeed, the couple is living off Hadley’s inheritance as Ernest struggles with his craft. Their first Paris flat is above a dance hall, and later they live next to a sawmill. But their life is mostly fun, with visits to the famous salons of Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, and drinking and partying with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and other authors and artists. Hadley and Ernest seem to have the most stable marriage in a group where “open marriage” was popular. The pair – and their friends – go to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, more bullfights in Madrid, hiking and skiing in the Alps, and so much more. It’s rather amazing what a “poor” young couple could do then (especially after they have a baby)!

Hadley and Ernest are real, of course, and much of their story has been told before, by Ernest in his memoir of the Paris years, A Moveable Feast, and by Ernest’s (and Hadley’s) biographers. Author Paula McLain decided to tell the story mostly from Hadley’s first-person viewpoint, with only a few chapters written from Ernest’s view (third person).

On her website, McLain says, “There were things I simply needed to know about the choices he was making, and could only know those things from the inside out. He's terribly complex. Parts of their story aren't easy to understand—and yet I needed to understand them if I was going to fully inhabit the world that needed inventing: the interior one. ...Their emotional crisis…occupies only a few taut pages in one well-regarded biography, but is the crux of my story. I invented what I couldn't know—all of their dialogue, for instance—but knew, in a deeper way, one that can't be aided by all the biographies in the world, what lay at the heart of what I was imagining.”

Like all good biographical novels, this one makes me want to learn more about Hadley, Hemingway, and his other wives; as well as read all the rest of Hemingway’s works I haven’t read yet.

Recording artist and spoken word performer Carrington MacDuffie has just the right voice for narrator Hadley, and her performance added greatly to my enjoyment of this book.  I like the book cover; it evokes an image of an outdoor cafe in Paris.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

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