Reviews for Paris Wife : A Novel

Booklist Reviews 2011 February #1
History is sadly neglectful of the supporting players in the lives of great artists. Fortunately, fiction provides ample opportunity to bring these often fascinating personalities out into the limelight. Gaynor Arnold successfully resurrected the much-maligned Mrs. Charles Dickens in Girl in a Blue Dress (2009), now Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband. Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. Hadley and Ernest traveled in heady company during this gin-soaked and jazz-infused time, and readers are treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the real star of the story is Hadley, as this time around, Ernest is firmly relegated to the background as he almost never was during their years together. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that "Hem" had "helped me to see what I really was and what I could do." Much more than a "woman-behind-the-man" homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2011 March
Paris is not for lovers

Paula McLain’s fictionalized study of the starter marriage of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Wife, is a pleasure for anyone who wonders what it was like to be a broke, ambitious writer in Europe in the 1920s. Or, more specifically, a broke, ambitious writer’s wife.

Hadley meets Ernest at a friend’s house in Chicago. She’s in her late 20s, nearly a decade older than he is, and on the verge of permanent spinsterhood. He deflowers her, they marry and flee to Paris, where they can live cheaply and meet all manner of big shots, including Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. They have a baby, nicknamed Bumby. There’s some drinking, though Hadley doesn’t hit the sauce nearly as much as Ernest. In McLain’s hands, he’s nicer than one would think, and the word that comes to mind for Hadley is “earnest” as she struggles to make homes for them in dinky little rooms while Hem tries to make a living. In clear and unfussy prose, McLain makes the reader long for their Lost Generational squalor.

Indeed, McLain’s talent is such that the fact that few of the characters are likable doesn’t mar her story. Characters need only be interesting, and well-drawn creeps are the most interesting of them all. Exceptions to the overall badness are the Murphys, the rich, cosmopolitan and compassionate couple who adopt both the Hemingways and the F. Scott Fitzgeralds like some folks adopt ugly pound puppies, and of course Bumby, still a child when his parents’ marriage detonates. Even Hadley repels with her love of bullfighting—a woman who gets her kicks from watching an animal tortured to death is simply not someone one can like. When the appalling Pauline Pfeiffer, who will become Ernest’s second wife, crawls into bed with them one drowsy Mediterranean afternoon one doesn’t know whether to cheer or gag. Hadley, like so many of her revered matadors, ends [Fri Aug 22 09:46:01 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. [Fri Aug 22 09:46:01 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. up pretty badly gored, but survives, and lives well into her 80s.

Restrained, perceptive and a bit sad, The Paris Wife is a look at a time and a marriage that weren’t as glamorous and carefree as we’d like to believe. 

Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2012 December
New paperback releases for reading groups

Penelope Lively’s latest book, How It All Began, is a masterfully crafted novel that explores the interconnectedness of human lives. After she’s attacked on a street in London, Charlotte Rainsford recovers at the home of her daughter, Rose. Trapped in a lackluster marriage, Rose serves as assistant to Lord Henry Peters, a pompous historian. With Charlotte on her hands, Rose is forced to take time off—a hiatus that causes Lord Henry to enlist the aid of his niece, Marion. An interior designer, she joins him on a trip that turns out to be fateful for everyone involved. Several cleverly woven plot strands demonstrate how a seemingly isolated incident can have incredible repercussions. Lively has been writing first-class fiction for nearly four decades, and this shrewdly observed narrative finds her at the top of her powers.

First-time novelist Barbara J. Zitwer tells a stirring story of friendship and the power of connection in The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society. The novel’s heroine, Joey Rubin, is a successful New York architect who travels to the Cotswolds to supervise renovations on Stanway House, the majestic manor that served as home to J.M. Barrie while he wrote Peter Pan. Joey’s experience at Stanway is far from magical, thanks to a crotchety caretaker and unfriendly locals. But when she discovers a gang of elderly women enjoying a swim in a lake on the manor grounds in the middle of winter, she’s intrigued. Known as the J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society, the group adopts Joey as one of their own, leading her on an extraordinary journey of growth and personal evolution. Zitwer writes from the heart about Joey’s search for fulfillment and the importance of pursuing dreams, and she has a gift for depicting relationships. Her debut is a charmer from start to finish.

In The Paris Wife, a magical mix of fact and fiction, Paula McLain tells the story of Hadley Richardson, the reserved Midwesterner who married Ernest Hemingway in 1921. A bit of a spinster, Hadley is 28 when she first encounters the budding novelist in Chicago. Eight years older than Hemingway, she’s sensible and stable—an unlikely match for the moody writer. But she throws caution to the wind, marries him and travels to Paris, where they join a group of alcohol-loving expatriates that includes F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. Not quite at ease in her bohemian surroundings, Hadley struggles to establish a home. Hemingway, meanwhile, works on The Sun Also Rises, develops an interest in bullfighting—and flirts openly with other women. When he betrays Hadley, their marriage crumbles, and she makes some critical discoveries about herself. McLain’s portrayal of Paris in its prime is spot-on, and in Hadley, she has created a character of subtlety and nuance.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 January #2

An imaginative, elegantly written look inside the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.

Hadley, literary history tells us, was Hemingway's rescuing angel; eight years older than he, she was the woman who lifted him from his postwar depression as a wounded veteran and helped restore his battered confidence. He, of course, was smitten; she was too, charmed by "his grin, elastic and devastating." "To keep you from thinking," McLain's (A Ticket to Ride, 2008, etc.) narrator puts it, "there was liquor, an ocean's worth at least, all the usual vices and plenty of rope to hang yourself with. But some of us, a very few in the end, bet on marriage against the odds." Marriage it was, and from there McLain's story becomes one of battling those long odds. After a sojourn in Toronto, the two head off to Paris—whence the title—at novelist Sherwood Anderson's suggestion, not just to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate but also to plunge headlong into the most active literary scene on the planet. By McLain's account, true to history, Hadley at times verges a touch on the naive but, for the most part, is tough and sophisticated; she holds her own with Ezra Pound ("He's very noisy...but he has some fine ideas") and Gertrude Stein, hangs tough with the bulls in Pamplona, and keeps up with Hemingway when he was young and vigorous and had not yet settled into his boozy "Papa" persona. McLain's Hemingway is outwardly a touch less obdurate than even Hemingway's own depiction of himself, especially at the climactic moment in which his manuscripts go missing, in which McLain puts a slight twist on history; clearly it marks the beginning of the end, whereupon the tale takes on the contour of a Jill Clayburgh vehicle. The closing pages, in particular, are both evocative and moving, taking in the sweep of events over a third of a century and providing a resolution that, if not neat, is wholly in character.

A pleasure to read—and a pleasure to see Hadley Richardson presented in a sympathetic light.

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2010 September #1
McLain has done nicely with two poetry collections, a debut novel (A Ticket To Ride), and a memoir of her life in foster homes, but this evocation of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley-which is, by extension, an evocation of 1920s Paris-promises to be the author's breakout. The book reportedly sold for $500,000 after a hotly contested auction. With a five-city tour; no reading group guide, alas, though this seems a natural for book clubs. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews 2010 November #2

A young Miss Hadley Richardson, with high spirits and lovely auburn hair, meets a handsome aspiring writer named Ernest Hemingway. They marry and make their way to Paris, living in a squalid apartment and spending time in caf society with fellow expatriates Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Sylvia Beach. Though the post-World War I years offer a great deal of creative freedom for these idle Americans, self-indulgence is the code of the day. Will Hadley choose to step aside as literary success--and another woman--come to take their place in Ernest's life? In her second novel (following A Ticket To Ride), McLain creates a compelling, spellbinding portrait of a marriage. Hemingway is a magnetic figure whose charm is tempered by his dark, self-destructive tendencies. Hadley is strong and smart, but she questions herself at every turn. Women of all ages and situations will sympathize as they follow this seemingly charmed union to its inevitable demise. VERDICT Colorful details of the expat life in Jazz Age Paris, combined with the evocative story of the Hemingways' romance, result in a compelling story that will undoubtedly establish McLain as a writer of substance. Highly recommended for all readers of popular fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/10.]--Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty., OH

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Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
McLain's fictional account of the real-life marriage between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway shares a similar pacing, attention to detail, and intimacy among characters as Rideout's description of Ruth and Mallory's marriage. Although Richardson was older than Hemingway, he still managed to sweep her off her feet. McLain presents Richardson's observant and strong voice in a new light. Vividly set in Paris and the other epicenters of Hemingway's early years, the novel paints a vibrant portrait of the couple. McLain brings forth all the expected cameos--Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein--and inevitably, Pauline, the woman who ultimately came between the couple. McLain traces the allegiance of a woman whose husband had other things on his mind and other alliances to pursue. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 December #1

McLain (A Ticket to Ride) offers a vivid addition to the complex-woman-behind-the-legendary-man genre, bringing Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, to life. Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Hadley is intrigued by the brash "beautiful boy," and after a brief courtship and small wedding, Hadley and Ernest take off for Paris, "the place to be," according to Sherwood Anderson. McLain ably portrays the cultural icons of the 1920s--Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra and Dorothy Pound--and the impact they have on the then unknown Hemingway, casting Hadley as a rock of Gibraltar for a troubled man whose brilliance and talent were charged and compromised by his astounding capacity for alcohol and women. Hadley, meanwhile, makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband's career. The historical figure cameos sometimes come across as gimmicky, but the heart of the story--Ernest and Hadley's relationship--gets an honest reckoning, most notably the waves of elation and despair that pull them apart. (Mar.)

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