[Book Review] The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

3.15.2014




Back in January, I read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. (You can read my review here.) Z is an historical fiction novel told from the point of view of Zelda, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald (who wrote novels, among them the well-known The Great Gatsby). After I finished, I was told by a few friends that I also needed to read Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, which is an historical fiction told from the point of view of Hadley, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway (who wrote classics such as The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms).

Of the two books--and Paris Wife--I liked the former slightly better, although I gave both 4 stars on Goodreads. Both were quick, interesting reads that I would recommend to fans of historical fiction. I think maybe the preference of book just depends on which one you read first. (In case you were wondering, Paris Wife was published first in 2011. was published in 2013.)

I would also say that Z was more interesting just because Zelda was a more interesting narrator. Hadley seemed quieter and kept to herself a lot more, so it didn't feel like there was as much drama.

Nevertheless, in both cases, I loved getting such a personalized, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of one of the most famous authors of his time. Although this is fiction, like Therese Anne Fowler did for her book, Paula McLain clearly did a ton of research before writing Paris Wife; and since I knew basically nothing about Hadley (Hemingway) Richardson before reading this, I learned a lot.

It was especially interesting to read this book after reading Z. 

Ernest Hemingway makes more of a consistent appearance in Zelda's narration than F. Scott does in Hadley's, which seemed a bit contradictory at first, but I guess the difference is probably because Zelda had more of a "relationship" with Ernest than Hadley did with F. Scott.

We know from history that Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway did not like each other, but Ernest comes off as much more of a drunken womanizer in Z than he did in Paris Wife. In fact, for most of the latter, I liked Ernest Hemingway quite a bit, which is not what I was expecting. Again, this is probably due to the narrator bias. I came off of reading Z thinking Ernest Hemingway was a terrible person, and throughout The Paris Wife and even now while reading A Moveable Feast, I'm finding myself thinking, "I kind of like Ernest Hemingway."

One of the Reader Questions at the end of Paris Wife mentions that even after their marriage had ended and up until the end of her life, Hadley continued to call Ernest "a prince." Ernest clearly was a cheating womanizer and a drunk, but she continues to love and support him to the best of her ability, which is at once admirable and annoying. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her and say, "Stand up for yourself, woman!"

On Monday, I went right to the downtown library on my lunch break to check out Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. This is the last thing Ernest Hemingway wrote before his suicide in 1961 and is a memoir about the years 1921-1926, which is when he was married to Hadley and also the years focused on in The Paris Wife. I'm almost finished, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. This is such a fun time period!

Here's my favorite quote so far from A Moveable Feast: 

"I thought of [Gertrude] Stein and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline, and I thought who is calling who a lost generation? I thought that all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be."

Related: 
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Anne Fowler
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Have you read either Z or The Paris Wife? Which did you like better?
Have you read A Moveable Feast?

12 comments:

  1. I read The Paris Wife a couple of years ago and loved it! I hadn't heard of Z but definitely want to check it out now!

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  2. I loved Z when I read it last year, so I got the audiobook of Paris Wife. I got about halfway through it before quitting; I found Hadley to be whiny, clingy, needy and annoying, to the point that I had zero sympathy for her and didn't really care that Ernest cheated on her. I wanted so badly to enjoy the book, but on the upside, it did make me want to read some of Hemingway's work because I figured it had to be better than Hadley's point of view!

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    1. Have you read A Moveable Feast? I really liked it! It made me like Ernest H. a lot.
      And I do agree with you about Hadley. That's why I liked Zelda better... she had more of a personality. But the time period and all of that was so fascinating that I liked it anyway. It was so interesting to read right after Z!

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  3. I heard The Paris Wife was good but based on the premise and your comments I think it sounds bad. Something about reading about failing marriages seems like bad juju!

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  4. I just read The Paris Wife, A Moveable Feast, and finished The Great Gatsby this week. I'll have to check out Z!

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  5. I loved a million times over The Paris Wife and loved your review, I think since I have been in the situation of moving to a foreign country with my husband and not knowing anyone I felt Hadley less annoying as some of her actions made perfect sense to me.

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  6. So glad you decided to read this one, too! I did it the same way and I really can't decide which I like better. When Chad and I went skiing a few weeks ago, I said, "We're like the Hemmingways!" Of course, he had no clue what I was exclaiming about. I have A Moveable Feast on my list for the year because of this book. I'm so, so interested and in love with the 20-30s and especially the "Lost Generation." Reading these also made me realize that I LOVE historical fiction. Stella Bain is on my list, too…have you read that or seen it on the shelf?

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  7. I am such a big fan of historical fiction, so I really thought I would love The Paris Wife. But I didn't. Not so much because of the book itself, I guess, but more because of the truth behind it. I didn't necessarily find Hadley annoying, but I did want to shake her! I finished the book kind of hating all of the characters, but really loathing Hemingway! I can't imagine how I'd feel about him if I read Z! I'm still fascinated by the history and notable figures of the period, but I have such a bitter taste in my mouth now. I'm just too traditional when it comes to love and marriage, I guess. :)

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  8. I loved reading your thoughts on this book (and everyone else's- though I disagree with a lot of them). I agree that Zelda was more compelling- she was a spitfire and her relationship with Scott was like fireworks, whereas Hem & Hadley were more like a burning candle. I was also happy to read that Hadley did remarry and it sounds like hubby #2 was more of a standup guy. Stories about cheating do infuriate me, but this story is presented in such a way that I am truly heartbroken for Hadley- she was a good woman and did no wrong by Hem. Hem was just a selfish man.

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    1. Yes! That's how I felt as well. I really felt sorry for Hadley by the end, and after reading A Moveable Feast, I felt sorry for Hemingway as well. He was selfish, but I got the sense that he really did feel bad for what happened to their marriage. I was glad Hadley ended up with someone at the end too! I think it's so interesting that there are (apparently according to the comments on this post) mixed views about this book.

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  9. I haven't read Z but I did read the Paris Wife and I thought it was quite good. I mean, it's pretty depressing, but you know that going into it, so at least that wasn't a surprise. I didn't hate Hem too much after reading this, surprisingly. I just felt really sorry for him. I was happy for Hadley in the end too.

    I really love reading book reviews :)

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  10. So want to read all of these books! We read a little into F. Scott Fitzgerald's history after watching the Great Gatsby last, and I was just fascinated. Now I'm even more interested. I love books that are a little historical, a little fictional :) And now that I know how to check out e-books from my library, you can bet I'll be taking up some book recommendations!

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