The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Audiobook)
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a shy twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness when she meets Ernest Hemingway and is captivated by his energy, intensity and burning ambition to write. After a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for France. But glamorous Jazz Age Paris, full of artists and writers, fuelled by alcohol and gossip, is no place for family life and fidelity. Ernest and Hadley’s marriage begins to founder, and the birth of a beloved son serves only to drive them further apart. Then, at last, Ernest’s ferocious literary endeavours begin to bring him recognition – not least from a woman intent on making him her own . . .
So this is my first review of an audiobook! In fact, it’s the first audiobook I have ever listened to, and that is all thanks to Daniel at Dog Ear Discs for recommending Audible to me! I’ve always been very unsure about audiobooks in the past, mainly because I find it very hard to concentrate on a story without having the words in front of me to read; my attention tends to wander after ten minutes or so. But I’m so glad I gave Audible a chance because I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Paris Wife, and I’d definitely recommend it as a great one to start with, if like me, you’re new to the whole thing!
I have never read anything by Ernest Hemingway before. I knew virtually nothing about him or his life. At first, I was sceptical as to whether or not I would get as much out of The Paris Wife as an avid reader of his work would. Would I understand all the references to his later novels, for instance? But I can honestly say that I’m almost glad I went into this novel not knowing anything about Hemingway. It is such a great introduction to the man himself and his early life, but above all else, it’s a brilliant story about someone just wanting to make it as a writer, and how that ambition affects everyone around him. I actually think if I had known about particular aspects of his life previously, it would have spoiled it slightly.
The Paris Wife is told from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. Not long after their relationship begins, the pair decide to move to Paris – the home of anyone who wants to make a name for themselves in the world of literature and art. Hemingway spends many months struggling to get his work published, but Hadley supports him every step of the way. It’s only when he gets published, that the cracks start to appear in their fragile marriage.
I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of empathy for Hadley. She is so completely in love with Ernest that she puts up with more than any woman should ever have to. I now know that Hemingway has quite the reputation for not being the nicest man in the world, but at times I just felt extremely angry towards the way he treated her. Writing is a solitary business, but Hemingway becomes increasingly selfish in his behaviour; even going so far as to try to deny Hadley the one thing that would make her truly happy; a child. Motherhood clearly comes naturally to Hadley, but I couldn’t help but feel that as much as she wanted to be a mother, maybe she just wanted some company, someone to look after and spend her days with. Maybe she wanted a little part of Ernest she could keep with her at all times.
Hemingway himself is clearly a conflicted character. He still suffers nightmares and terrors from his time in the war, and his constant need to be recognised as a writer is at times, exhausting. He watches everyone with that ‘writer’s eye,’ taking note of conversations and scenes in his life that he can include in his work. He is surrounded by a whole host of successfully published authors who flaunt their success; Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford and so on. The one thing that stood out to me, above all else in this novel is the inconceivable fact that almost everyone in Hemingway’s life appears in his novels and short stories in some form or another, other than his wife, Hadley. It’s never really clear why this was so, but I can only imagine how it must have made Hadley feel. Was she not good enough to make the cut? Was she not interesting enough? Or did he truly want to keep her to himself?
Hemingway went on to marry three more women after Hadley, and as a reader, you can’t help but get a sense that McLain wanted to give Hadley a voice. She has been known ever since as ‘the Paris wife’ – but who was this woman? McLain has clearly done her research, and I think she paints a beautiful yet tragically honest portrait of their relationship, and their individual characters. McLain also does a wonderful job of bringing the roaring twenties to life and I can’t help but envy them for this wonderful era they lived through, and in the city of Paris, which inspired so many of the world’s greatest writers. There is something truly magical about that period that is so exciting and inspiring. If I had a time machine, I know exactly where I’d go…
The audiobook version of The Paris Wife is read beautifully by Carrington MacDuffie, and she does a brilliant job of giving Hadley a voice. I haven’t quite been able to get the whole thing out of my head since I finished listening to it.
I really can’t recommend this highly enough. I’ve always wanted to read Hemingway’s work, but now I know that when I do, I’ll get that little bit more out of it for knowing what inspired his stories and the man behind the words. Whether you’re a fan of Hemingway or know nothing about him, I can guarantee you will enjoy this novel.
The Paris Wife is out now, published by Virago.