The Paris Wife

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Paula McLain
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Feb. 2011 (read Jun. 2022)

This was pretty much the most disappointing read of the decade. My book club selected it for our June meeting, which just so happened to be our 100th book and 10th anniversary as a club. We were really hoping for a winner and this absolutely did not deliver. 

The Paris Wife is set in the 1920’s and features the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. They meet in Chicago and quickly fall in love and marry before moving to Paris together for Ernest to pursue writing. I admit, I didn’t know very much about the lost generation and I did find it intriguing to learn that so many classic authors were acquainted with one another. At first it seems surprising, but after thinking about it a bit, I guess it kind of makes sense that affluence would produce so many classic writers. I don’t want to be salty, but it gives me the impression that the writers who received acclaim at the time are more a product of the society they kept rather than that they were actually challenging the field. I’m sure there were lots of non-white authors writing a lot more groundbreaking material at the time that went unrecognized.

Maybe that’s unfair because I haven’t actually read anything by Ernest Hemingway. The book may have briefly inspired some interest in picking up a Hemingway, but this was so flipping boring that I can’t stand to read another page about bull fighting and shit men, so it dashed any interest I might have held. 

I had a mild interest for some of the content, but I’m honestly questioning who the intended audience of this book is? Is it for Hemingway fans? Because I can’t see how anyone who likes Hemingway would finish the book feeling the same way, and anyone who was indifferent about Hemingway sure as hell won’t be anymore. Even though Hadley is at the centre of the story, it’s still not compelling. The synopsis paints the picture of an incredible bond and the ultimate betrayal, but the bond looked more like subservience to me and you could predict the betrayal a mile away. There are no likeable characters in the book, which isn’t always a problem for me, but I felt like we were supposed to like some of the characters, which is what made it more problematic.

I found nothing about their portrayal intriguing. Hemingway paints himself as a poor, struggling artist, but none of these people are poor, as evidenced by their frequent trips across the Atlantic and all around Europe. This was a boring account of a bunch of privileged, pretentious, white people. I honestly didn’t see the point. What was the theme of the book? Why did we all waste our time on this? If it’s not going to challenge my thinking in some way, it should at least be entertaining right?

To finish, the last thing I’m going to say is that the idea of my husband’s mistress climbing into bed with me and my husband and then f**king each other next to me is pretty much the most traumatizing, messed-up thing I’ve ever heard. I obviously didn’t like it and it’s probably mean to keep bulldozing it. I feel like I’m actually being harsher than I was at my book club, so I will say that the writing is good. Honestly, I feel like this could have worked really well as a biography or piece of non-fiction writing. I can see the interest in learning more about Hemingway and the lost generation, but as fiction it’s not compelling. It was too factual, with not enough emotion or liberty taken for fiction. I’d like to think that maybe the author was trying to evoke Hemingway’s sparse type of writing style, but it was my second book by her and the first one was boring too. So it’s time to move on – if you like semi-biographical fiction – this may be for you.

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