The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

paris wife

I read the excerpt of the first three chapters on February 2011 Good Housekeeping and was hooked. Patiently I waited for the book in the store but instead, managed to borrow it from NLB(I love our library!).

This is a fictional biography of Hadley Richardson, the first of four wives of writer Ernest Hemingway. In the words of the author, ‘Although Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway and other people who actually lived appear in this book as fictional characters, it was important for me to render the particulars of their lives as accurately as possible, and to follow the very well documented historical record.’

The book begins with the meeting of  28 year-old Hadley and 21 year-old Ernest at a party in 1920 in USA. Ernest had just returned from the war and was trying to write for a living. They were immediately attracted to each other, both coming from families with domineering mothers. Although both wealthy, Hadley’s family lost their wealth when her father committed suicide, and Ernest chose to live outside of his family home, renting from a friend.

Ernest and Hadley married shortly after and decided to move to Paris, where the creative people were thriving during that time. They struggled to survive on his journalist’s pay and her trust fund from a relative. Probably a product of the era, Ernest was the centre of her universe and her life revolved around him, assuring him and supporting his writing. (He could be quite a baby who needed constant assurance. When denied this, he would seek until he found one. That was how he developed with his mistress.)

Throughout their stay in Paris, they met other published writers, James Joyce, a famous writer at that time, was seen around town and invited gossips with his behaviour.  In between work, the young couple found time to go skiing in Austria, bull fights in Spain and travel around Europe. (And I thought they were living on a budget!)

The twenties was an interesting era. People gave each other nicknames. Both Ernest and Hadley referred each other as Tatie, Tiny, The Cat. His mistress, Pfife, called him Drum.

The book is written in the first person with Hadley as the narrator. I view her as the clinging wife. Although she played the piano, she had no other passion. As a mother, she often left Bumby to the charge of a nanny. The book harps on her ‘poor choice of clothes’ and I get the impression that she was living on a budget, yet she was often out drinking, renting rooms in hotels. I am exasperated yet sympathize with her. She was after all a woman of that era.

Once on a train to meet Ernest, she brought along all his manuscripts without his knowledge but left them unattended in the train which were eventually stolen. To his credit, he kept calm but that was when his trust for her started wavering.

The book gives an insight to the life of early writers and the life then. The rich seems to party all day long and spent summer and winter vacation playing. Perhaps that’s still the life of the rich and famous now.

The gist of the story can also be found on but the author’s intention ‘to push deeper into the emotional lives of the characters and bring new insight to historical events, while staying faithful to the facts’ makes this book a compelling read.


About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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One Response to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

  1. Pingback: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin | Vicky's Writings

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