I know I’m a little late to the game with The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain. Although this book was getting rave reviews (including two great reviews from fellow BGBers – here and here), I put off reading The Paris Wife, because I thought it might be a little too highfalutin for me. I’ve never been to Paris, I’ve shamefully never read an Ernest Hemingway book (and, if we’re being honest here, I don’t really even know much about Hemingway), and, despite all of the historical fiction that I read, books based in the Jazz Age have never crossed my reading list. But then I saw an article in People Magazine where Pink put The Paris Wife on her summer must read list. Then I thought to myself, “Self, if even a quasi-angry, spikey haired, tattooed singer loved this book, well then maybe it’s time I figure out what all the buzz is about.”
I won’t recap the story because you can read better summaries than I would offer in Jim and Anne’s reviews. I will, however, agree with Jim, Anne, and Pink that this is a great read. I’ve never been to Paris and I don’t know anything about the Jazz Age or the crazy pants artists that lived it, so I didn’t really connect to those elements of the book. But what I did connect with was Hadley’s very moving story. I know the book is fiction based on a true story, but it reads so real. Having fairly recently moved to a new city to support my husband’s career and dreams, I immediately connected with Hadley when she and Ernest moved to Paris and she struggles with shifting between incredible loneliness and the desire to be wholly supportive of her husband. It was like listening to a friend that actually understood that sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your spouse and that you can feel so very happy for them one minute while also feeling very lonely and sad for the things that you have left behind but also so very hopeful for your new future. Yes, Hadley understands a wife’s sacrifices.
Then when it became clear that Ernest was completely oblivious to the fact that, of all the people in his life, Hadley was the one person that would quite literally give up everything that she had established for herself to be his number one supporter through thick and thin, and he took a lover that happened to also be one of Hadley’s only real friends that she was able to make in this foreign land, well, then the book got really sad. It would be an impossibly difficult situation to be in. Just up and leaving your husband with no marketable skill to support yourself and your child would be no easy feat. Plus she still loved him. But the Hadley character in the book handles it with as much grace as I think anyone could under the circumstances. It may just be the pregnancy hormones, but I cried a bit while reading the end. (On an airplane. Thank goodness my seat mate was sleeping).
I don’t think you need to know anything about the background of this book to enjoy it. It’s a moving real life personal story set in a crazy background with crazy supporting characters that make it all the more interesting. I do like that, despite all of the bs that Ernest put Hadley through, the author notes that Ernest said of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” Kind of poetic. I think it would be interesting to see Ernest’s take, so A Movable Feast will be added to my reading stack. Two sides to every story I suppose.