Friday, June 3, 2011

Biography Book Review: The Paris Wife: A Novel

Saturday June 4: Biography Book Review
Review done by Victoria Ceretto-Slotto. Visit her blog:

Title: The Paris Wife: A Novel
Author: Paula McClain

About the Author:

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 Paula McLain, born in California in 1965, raised in foster homes. Overcoming many difficulties, she obtained an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996. Has received numerous fellowships, including one from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has published two books of poetry, a memoir, and a novel, A Ticket to Ride. She teaches in the MFA Program in Poetry at New England College, and lives with her family in Cleveland.

Check out this 3-minute Interview with Paula McLain:

Publisher: Ballantine Books, a Division of Random House, 2011

Story Summary: The Paris Wife is a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage and early years in 1920's Paris, as told from the point of view of his wife, Hadley. Though written as fiction, the author did thorough research into the biographies and letters of Hemingway and Hadley Richardson Hemingway, as well as in the author’s novels, to develop the material which became the story of their charmed and devastated marriage in Paris, from 1921-1926. The story is true to details as far as the unfolding of Ernest and Hadley’s years together. What McLain has done is to imbue the characters with emotion and interject dialogue. Therein lies the fiction.
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Comments: McLain excels in transporting the reader to a place and time inhabited by modernist artists and authors: Paris in the 1920’s. You will experience the joie de vivre of this epoch, but also the vacuous quality of the subjects’ lives—marked by alcoholism and rampant infidelity.

Hadley emerges as a romantic, traditional wife and mother in spite of her tumultuous life style with Ernest. It is easy to empathize with her. At the same time you are introduced to the troubled and insecure persona of Ernest. His self doubts about his ability as a writer and his moodiness diminish over the course of the novel as he achieves success. At the same time, his need for affirmation and encouragement that Hadley provided wanes. He then betrays not only Hadley but those who supported his early efforts: Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein among others.

McLain’s ability as a writer is showcased by natural dialogue, crisp descriptions and readability. This novel made me want to read her poetry, memoir and first novel.

My one small critique with the novel was that Ernest and Hadley used multiple nicknames for each other, as well as for acquaintances. At times I got lost trying to figure out who was who, especially when reading dialogue. It took me a while to figure out that the couple shared a nickname: Tatie.
Recommendation: *****—very highly recommended. Especially if you are a fan of Hemingway or a writer who grapples with insecurity, as Hemmingway does.

“Nearly anyone might feel like a painter walking the streets of Paris then because the light brought it out in you, and the shadows alongside the buildings, and the bridges which seemed to want to break your heart…”

“’I want to write one true sentence,” he said. “If I can write one sentence, simple and true, everyday, I’ll be satisfied.”

and I’m happy to bring this review to you.

Links to Images:


Langley Cornwell said...

Sounds like a book I would very much enjoy. I am a fan of Hemingway and a writer who grapples with insecurity so I'm all over this. Thanks for the review.

Jingle said...

Amazing review, Victoria.

Thanks for the headup, Jennifer.

Indie said...

What a thorough review. I felt like you gave me a good sense of this writer and her work.

Great job Victoria!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. I hope you have a chance to read and enjoy it. I'd enjoy reading your comments. Victoria