Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I have a weakness for historical fiction and even more when it is about a well known person. Lately, I read Freud's Mistress and now I found another good one about Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It is told from Hadley's point of view and retells the story how they met, married and went to Paris to live during the roaring twenties. Well, it was not that roaring for them, Hemingway struggling to write his first novel and surviving by working as a journalist.

They still managed to travel around in Europe, visiting Italy, Austria, Spain especially Pamplona, San Sebastien, Madrid in Hemingway's quest for bull fights. They travelled with friends, other artists, writers, painters and others who always seemed to be drawn to each other in those days. The Spanish visits was the base for one of his his first books (and by some considered as one of his best) The Sun Also Rises. 

Living with an artist is probably not that easy and living with Hemingway was certainly not easy. He had depressions, fought with people, suffered from a bad confidence and had doubts in himself, later in life he was diagnosed as manodepressive and suicidal. These problems were not so visible in the early days but Hadley was a totally different person from Hemingway and the crowd they were hanging out with. She was there to support him and they did love each other. They travelled, he wrote, she took care of him. In 1923 their son Jack (called Bumby) was born. They continued their life which in between the creative work consisted on meeting in cafés and bars, drinking, drinking and drinking, discussions, holidays, like a big family. They met all the great names of the days, Ezra Pound, Gertrud Stein and Alice Token, Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and more which had all gathered in Paris and spend their summers at the Riviera, which in those days was not so popular as today. They were the ones making it popular.

Relationships were easy, coupled changed and in the end it was too much for Hadley's and Hemingway's marriage. I will not spoil the story with too many details, I can only say that I would not have put up with what she put up with even if I loved the man! This is an easygoing read, a good description of the times. Paula McLain has done a lot of research and she has managed to give Hadley a good, realistic voice and you feel that you get to see the man Hemingway as he was before fame and public images made him into what he became.  As usual, having read a fictional biography you feel you have to read a real biography of Hemingway. He did after all have an adventurous life and four wifes.
And... of course, read some of his books. I have only read, The Snow on Kilimandjaro, The Sun Also Rises (long time ago and I can't say I remember them so a re-read is up) and lately (which I still remember and it is a wonderful book) The Old Man and the Sea!

Later in life Hemingway wrote about Hadley: I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone like her!

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