Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats
Sunday, March 15, 2015
"The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain
I've read an embarrassingly small number of Hemingway's works. If I remember right, I haven't gotten beyond A Farewell to Arms (which I loved, and which broke my heart) and The Old Man and the Sea (which was simple and powerful, though I found it slightly less absorbing). After reading The Paris Wife, I'm definitely adding the following to my TBR: The Sun Also Rises (the one about watching bullfighting in Pamplona) and In Our Time (a collection of short stories), both of which were written while Hemingway was married to his "Paris wife"; and A Moveable Feast, a posthumously-published memoir of his Paris years.
But Hemingway's writing was not the focus of The Paris Wife. Of course, writing was a major part of Hemingway's life, and Hemingway was a major character in this book. But the book is narrated by Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, and though the formation of several of his major works looms large in the background, the core of the book is their marriage: its birth, five years of ups and downs, and its sad, slow strangulation and death.
This book paints a fascinating portrait of the glittering literary circles found in 1920s Paris, touching on the Hemingways' friendships with the likes of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, but all of that is just the landscape behind the story of Ernest and Hadley's doomed marriage. Hemingway, unsurprisingly, lives large and lives intensely, and it's his desire to Have It All which drives their relationship to destruction. It was really kind of agonizing to watch its unraveling in the pages of this book.