After finishing Unbroken, I was hungry for another good book and didn’t want to take a gamble on the bookshelves. So I contacted my Bostonian Bookophile, who of course had a fount of suggestions. When The Paris Wife was among them, I knew it would be my next book, as I’d already had my eye on it for a while. And it was beautiful.
Paula McLain found a way to bring the first of Hemingway’s four wives back to life, giving her a beautiful, lyrical, melancholy voice. The story of a young woman who became intricately entwined with the budding career of one of America’s greatest literary talents only to see her marriage swallowed by the chaotic life of 1920’s bohemian Paris. Most of The Paris Wife is written as Hadley’s interior monologue, peppered with cut-scenes of Hemingway’s betrayals.
hadley and earnest hemingway, 1920. photo from kramblings
When inside Hadley’s head, her voice is rich, fluid, lyrical. When McLain moves into dialogue between Ernest and Hadley it’s as succinct and poignant as the dialogue Hemingway was known for. McLain makes the tragedy of broken promises and failed expectations lovely, and you can almost taste the bitterness of Hadley’s longing as she finds and loses the love of her life. Though I’m not much for sad endings, this book is supremely worth the read.
I underlined much of this book, as I’m a sucker for a clever turn of phrase. Here’s one of my favorite bits:
If you looked at the bicycles one way, they looked very solid, like sculpture, with afternoon light glinting cleanly off the chrome handlebars–one, two, three, all in a row. If you looked at them another way, you could see just how thin each kickstand was under the weight of the heavy frame, and how they were poised to fall like dominoes or the skeletons of elephants or like love itself. But when I noticed this, I kept it to myself because that, too, was part of the unwritten contract.
I really like 101 Book’s habit of including the first line of each book he reads in his review, so I’d like to do the same, with my own twist:
Opening line (Prologue): Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris.
Opening line (Chapter 1): The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes and say, “It’s possible I’m too drunk to judge, but you might have something there.”
Closing lines (Main book): He nodded yes, and I folded Ernest’s letter, creasing and squaring the edges until it seemed sturdy. I gave it to Bumby and together we waded out into the surf and let the boat go. It bobbed and dipped, words on water, and when the waves gradually took it, I only cried a very little, and then it was gone.
Closing lines (Epilogue): There was nothing Paul could possibly do for me except let me go – back to Paris and Pamplona and San Sebastian, back to Chicago when I was Hadley Richardson, a girl stepping off a train about to meet the man who would change her life. That girl, that impossibly lucky girl, needed nothing.