The plot centers on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, "The Paris Wife." It follows them through their courting days in the US, their obscurity and struggles while he's trying to "make it" as a writer in Paris, and then as a "successful" artistic couple living the Bohemian international life in a circle of wealthy and famous friends. While the writing itself is fictional, it's based on actual events in the real lives of the Hemingways, so it's an odd blend of fiction and biography.
The book is summed up well by this quote:
Ernest once told me that the word paradise was a Persian word that meant "walled garden." I knew then that he understood how necessary the promises we made to each other were to our happiness. You couldn't have real freedom unless you knew where the walls were and tended them.
This quote occurs near the end of the novel, and sadly, everything leading up to this point is about how those boundaries that are so necessary for a healthy marriage were allowed to crumble.
This book was well-written, and I did find it interesting, in spite of the fact that I don't care much for Hemingway. I care less for him now after reading this book. He struck me as a completely self-centered, egotistical, proud, ungrateful wretch who used people to get what he wanted, and then threw them under the bus when it became convenient. Considering he took his own life after a string of four marriages and many other illicit relationships, he seems to have been a pretty miserable person, in spite of his "success" as a writer.
The story is depressing - it's sad to see their relationship unravel as they become more and more like the "bohemian" (aka licentious and immoral) culture they've surrounded themselves with in early 20th Century Paris. But I think the author makes a pretty strong case for fidelity by showing how miserable unfaithfulness makes everyone involved - including the guilty parties.
A few words of caution: there are a couple of brief but graphic explicit scenes, as well as a few curse words scattered throughout - enough to make me hesitant to recommend it to anyone.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
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