Publication Date: February 27, 2011
Publisher: Ballantine Books
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.