The Paris Wife - Paula McLain

Rating: ★★★★★

Publication Date: February 27, 2011
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 314 pages

The Paris Wife is based on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley. While often written about, by Hemingway himself and scholars researching his life, Paula McLain's story focuses on Hadley's point of view and what her life was like living with one of the most talented, and complicated, man of the 20th century.  

When I started this book, I wasn't too sure what I'd think of it. I know quite a bit about Hemingway by now, but I knew close to nothing about Hadley and she came across as one of the most boring characters ever. She falls in love with Ernest the moment she sees him and suddenly her whole life is revolving around this man she barely knows. However, somewhere between their engagement and wedding, I fell in love with Hadley. 

Hadley is definitely one of the most simple characters in the beginning of the story. She's quite old (mid to end twenties) and is eager to find someone she can love and start a family with. But that need for something so simple, happiness and family, turns out to be her strength throughout the story. While all the other characters, mostly writers, strive for life long acknowledgment, greatness, wildness,... Hadley is the calm in the storm and the easiest character to relate to in the story. She might want something simple, but she's incredibly strong and able to handle any situation Ernest throws at her - and best belief that he involves her in many difficult situations.

Paula McLain's writing is beautiful and she really takes Hadley on a journey from young girl to grown woman, across continents and in many different situations. Hadley evolves, but always stays true to herself and I can't deny that I teared up at the end of the story. Because Hadley's wish for happiness is so easy I wanted her to succeed so badly at this. She's willing to give so much and to comprise so much of who she is, just to keep her family, midway through the book enriched with a son, together. And yet, as we all know through the myth of Hemingway, she doesn't succeed. And knowing that, seeing things slowly falling apart and knowing Hadley won't be able to bring them back together, is heartbreaking.

It's not easy to tell a story that has become general knowledge for so many people. Hemingway is known as the womanizer with four wives and yet never faithful to any of them. It's a task and Paula McLain navigates it beautifully. Knowing the ending only enhances the story and the depth the characters are given means you'll never look at Hemingway, or Hadley, the same way again.


Villa America - Liza Klaussmann

Rating: ★★★★

Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 426 pages


Villa America is the fictional story of Sarah and Gerald Murphy, two rich and important Americans who played a key role in the development of FItzgerald's work, who even devoted Tender Is the Night to them. 

Even though I've delved into Fitzgerald and his work, I wasn't very familiar with Sarah and Gerald Murphy and was excited to discover their world. The first noticeable thing is Liza Klaussmann's amazing writing throughout the whole story. The plot takes place over thirty years and jumps between Gerald and Sarah's voice, but Klaussmann effortlessly alternates the character. Every character, sometimes others are narrators too for short periods of them, has their own distinct voice and takes you into their own world in this most natural way. This makes the book very enjoyable to read and it's so easy to connect with each and every character.

I thoroughly enjoyed both Sarah and Gerald's journey. They're believable characters, though they lived an unbelievable life. In their villa in southern France, Hemingway and Fitzgerald walk in and out while discussing the likes of Picasso. It seems like a dream now, but both Sarah and Gerald have very real issues to deal with. The main undertone of this book is the hidden homosexuality of many male characters. World War I profoundly changed men, and the way people viewed love. When you almost lost your life fighting for your country, doesn't it seem weird that you have to hide who you love? This is the thinking of many male characters, though most of them keep their homosexuality hidden well into the story. It unravels beautifully towards the end and enhancing the love story between Sarah and Gerald.

At the core of this book is the fact that Sarah and Gerald Murphy, just like Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, were ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. They lived through their worst nightmares during World War I and are left picking up the pieces of themselves, and the world, in the time period after. Though often sees an extravagant and irresponsible generation, Villa America shows the very real struggles of these people and why their pain translates so beautifully in art.  


Save Me the Waltz - Zelda Fitzgerald

Rating: ★★★

Publication Date: 1932 (First edition)
Publisher: Vintage (Random House)
Genre: Classics
Pages: 225 pages

Those of you that follow me on Tumblr will know that I have been obsessed with The Lost Generation authors. In the never ending search of a thesis topic, I have now decided to focus on them and first up is Zelda Fitzgerald - a woman I've read so much about, but never read what she wrote. And thankfully I decided to change that.

Save Me the Waltz is the mostly autobiographical story of Zelda, represented by the main character Alabama, from her childhood until her father passes away, and focuses mostly on her marriage with David Knight. David is a successful painter and when the couple moves to Paris, Alabama tries to find her own creativity in a world controlled by men. She starts ballet at 27, just like Zelda did, and describes beautifully the agony and release she finds in this.

While this book is often read as a companion novel to Fitzgerald's work, mostly Tender is the Night, this discredits the creativity that can be found in Save Me the Waltz. While it does focus on the relationship between Zelda and Scott, and there are some clear parallels in events that happened in the book and in their real lives, the book mainly focuses on Alabama's struggle to find herself in a male oriented world. While in New York, she has nothing to do and aimlessly, and unhappily, wanders after her husband. In Paris, she discovers ballet and throws herself into it, even though her body cannot really handle the work.

This is where Zelda's fiction truly shines. My edition of the book followed the original manuscript which was filled with grammatical errors and words put in places that don't make any sense. Though this might bother some readers, it gave me the feel of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and helped me relate to the main character.  We are thrown into a world we cannot fully grasp, no matter how often we read a sentence or even the whole book, just like Alabama is navigating a world she'll never grasp. The descriptions are beautiful though and it was so easy to feel the pain from all the ballet training. All the female characters, who are only properly introduced once Alabama enters the female world of dancing, are realistic and well-rounded and all struggle with finding their way in post war Paris.

Save Me the Waltz can be a confusing read and you might have to give yourself a few pages to get into, but it is also one of the most beautiful and gripping books I've ever read. It made me ache for Zelda Fitzgerald's talent; if she can produce a novel like this in just six weeks while admitted in a mental hospital, I wish we could have discovered the books she could have written earlier in her life. She might be the wife of one of the most famous authors, but she was a talented author in herself, who was able to describe the struggles of being a woman and the world of Parisian ballet in a way I've never encountered before. This book is one to read, just for the beauty of itself.