Wednesday, November 28, 2012

THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain

The wife in question is Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife.  Neither Hadley nor Ernest is the least bit loveable in this engrossing piece of historical fiction.  She's spineless and careless, and he's self-centered and insulting--discarding his mentors, one by one.  His relationship with Hadley is another casualty, as he flaunts his affair with her very good friend, Pauline, destined to be ex-wife #2.  All of this strife and torment makes for a pretty good story, even with no one to root for.  I kept hoping that the clingy Hadley would rise up and see the light, and obviously she does eventually step aside so that Hemingway can marry Pauline, although we can see from the outset how doomed that union will be.  Hadley narrates the majority of the chapters, but a few give Hemingway's side of the story, especially regarding a pivotal event that spells the beginning of the end.  I enjoyed all the anecdotes about other famous writers in Paris at the time, particularly Scott Fitzgerald, who is completely enchanted by his weird wife Zelda.  The downfall of Hadley and Ernest's marriage is somewhat precipitated by the flagrant disregard for marriage vows that so many of their other friends exhibit.  The accolades for In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises feed Hemingway's ego, so that he feels entitled to a mistress himself and exhibits an appalling callousness to the pain he inflicts on his tortured wife.  In many ways, though, she's not exactly a shrinking violet, sharing Hemingway's admiration of the violent bullfights and matching him almost drink for drink.  I felt that their marriage might have lasted if she could have shed the chip on her shoulder that she felt for not being an artist herself.  On the other hand, she was probably better off without him in the long run.  Did regret play a role in his suicide, or was he just another tormented genius?  I can't help believing that at some point he realized the error of his ways.

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