As a recipient of the Wentworth Scholarship this year, I have dedicated much of my recreational reading to biographies and interviews of Ernest Hemingway. To give myself a reprieve from my studies of a young Hemingway in Paris, as my own adventure in Paris approaches, I picked up The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The novel is a historical fiction of Hemingway’s life in Paris and first marriage to Hadley Richardson. While the book was not exactly the escape from my studies I had envisioned, I decided this would be a fun way to stay on task.
The novel chronicles the journey of Hadley and Ernest when they first meet in Chicago. The story winds through the ups and downs of their marriage as the couple find there way through the streets of Paris and Europe, all the while with Ernest working toward his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. The Paris Wife is a clear homage to Hemingway’s journey of becoming one of America’s greatest writers. The novel is written from the first person perspective of Hadley, and the reader is sure to fall in love with McLain’s characterization of Hemingway along with her. Although the reader must keep in mind that the book is complete fiction and does not in any way represent the true nature of Hadley and Ernest’s characters and relationship with one another, the book makes an important and interesting point; Ernest became the writer he wanted to be when he went on this journey to Paris with Hadley. While my work for the Wentworth is to prove that the place, Paris, is what pushed and inspired Hemingway to finally publish his first novel, I realized while reading The Paris Wife that it was not just Paris that encouraged him to complete his novel, but the people in his life too, particularly his wife. It’s the complete experience as a whole that is inspiring; the people, the places, the events, the feelings, and the actions; the very elements that Ernest himself wanted to capture in his own writing.
McLain’s novel is a well-crafted fiction with all the accuracies of a true timeline to almost make the reader believe it is true. As Hemingway himself said: “All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.” I believe The Paris Wife falls under this category. Whether you are a devout Hemingway fan or looking for a book to escape into, McLain’s novel is a woven tale of one of the world’s greatest literary giants, and paints a provocative interpretation of the beginnings of Ernest Hemingway.