Paula Maclaine’s The Paris Wife is a fictional memoir of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson. Truth be told, I didn’t so much read it as inhale it. I mean, 1920s Paris? Take me there, please.
The Paris Wife tells the story of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson’s romance, from their chance meeting at a friend’s house in Chicago through their whirlwind lettered romance and wedding to their five years living in Paris as man – no, artist – and wife. I was sucked in by MacLaine’s description of brass bands and hot Paris nights and loose 1920s fashions and cobblestones and Hemingway’s marriage to his craft. There was nothing overdone or tryhard about the prose; it was simple, elegant, exactly what it was trying to be: a modern interpretation of a 1920s voice.
The Paris Wife is told in the first person, which I’m not usually into, but Hadley Richardson was such a joy to be with that it was hardly 10 pages before I was completely sucked in. She wasn’t whiny or arrogant, as many first-person protagonists are wont to be. She was deeply in love, ready to sacrifice anything for Ernest and his work, but at the same time quietly resentful of the time she spent alone. I ached when the marriage started falling apart, and raged on her behalf at the audacity of Ernest’s mistress and Hadley’s best friend. Hadley’s was a voice that I responded to.
I got a little thrill each time I came across a name I recognised – Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Max Perkins, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They were all friends, all part of the same social circle. They read each other’s work and encouraged each other and drank ridiculous amounts of alcohol together. There was a fantastic scene where Hadley and Ernest met F Scott Fitzgerald. Ernest admits he’s never read any of Scott’s work, and Scott says that he’s just released a new book, The Great Gatsby (the fangirl in me shrieked a bit, I’ll admit). They chat a bit and then Scott moves on to talk to someone else, and Hadley wonders if she’ll ever get the courage to tell him that she’s read The Beautiful and Damned. It’s just perfect, the mixture of shyness and openness. I think Hadley might become one of my favourite protagonists, or at least one of my favourite summer reads.
And really, how great is that cover? Hadley in a fabulous magenta dress and dark fur coat, espresso at her elbow, scribbling furiously in a little Moleskine notebook. Journalling or dreaming or creating. The kind of cover that sucks you right in.