Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Hadley Richardson thought she’d missed out on her chance to find love and happiness after caring for her ailing mother. At twenty-eight, she felt inexperienced in courtship and society. That was until twenty-one year old Ernest Hemingway swept her off her feet. Their whirlwind romance quickly progressed to marriage and a move to Paris for Hemingway to pursue his writing . The pair struggled in life, and later in love, as he embarks on the beginning of a legendary career.

The Paris Wife is told primarily from Hadley’s point of view with a few chapters told from Hemingway’s. And while I occasionally enjoy romantic drama, Hadley’s voice did put me off several times throughout the novel.

One of the main pillars of Hadley’s character is that she’s inexperienced and that makes her a pretty passive character. She agrees to marry Hemingway after knowing him for only a few months because she’s caught-up in his personality. She follows him to Paris and plays the good wife as she champions his careers. Her needs are more often sacrificed for the good of his writing.

Part of me had hoped that Hadley would step up more than she did. I tend to enjoy novels with really strong female leads, and Hadley only gained some semblance of strength in the final chapters of the book. It would have been appropriate for the time period. And to give her credit, she stayed true to her character.

The story itself was good, and the interactions between Hadley and Hemingway and Hemingway and the world were dynamic. Paula McLain did an amazing job with her research in order to bring the historical literary figures in the book to life. This would be a good book for a light vacation read or during travel by plane.

So The Paris Wife is a book that will entertain with its drama and emotions. It’ll give a glimpse into Hemingway’s first marriage and why it fell apart. And Hadley provides a narrative that shows her love, her sorrow, and her strength (even if it’s not the kind feminism you’d expect today).

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