Monday, 14 July 2014

Paris in July - Hemingway, The Paris Years by Michael Reynolds

This post is for Paris in July challenge.

Recently, I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which is told from the point of view of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. As always when I read historical fiction on real-life people, I want to read a biography to try to find out how much is true and how the true events took place. I have bought several books on Hemingway’s life and this is the first one that I read.

It is an excellent book, written in beautiful prose, and like so many of the good writers of biographies, it is more exciting and interesting as any fiction. One can of course say, that Hemingway’s life was more exciting the most, but still. Reynolds has written five books about Hemingway; The Young Hemingway, The Paris Years, The Homecoming, The 1930s, and The Final Years. This is the second part of his life. Maybe also the most important part, since these are the years that he learned the handicraft and formed his later writings. Paris at the time was full of writers, journalists and artists, many of them expats like himself; Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Sylvia Beach and her famous book shop Shakespeare and Company, and many others.

A young Hemingway
We follow Hemingway from when he first arrives in Paris in 1922, with Hadley. The book covers four years up to 1925. That is just before Hemingway makes it as a writer with his first successful novel The Sun Also Rises. There was not always easy times, since they were short of money. They lived on an heritage fond of Hadley's and Hemingway earned extra money as a journalist. These were the days of the peace negotiations after the First World War, trying to find a new economic base for life in Europe. It was interesting times and Hemingway was there. He learned a lot from fellow, experienced journalist, travelled all over Europe and to Turkey to cover events there.

The Hemingway family
He and Hadley lived in a community of expats and cultural people, maybe even bohemian people. It was quite a different life from the one they had at  home. Hemingway had problems with his parents and tried to get away from their life style. He and Hadley lived happily the first years, and their son John Hadley Nicanor "Jack" Hemingway, called Bumpy at the time was born in 1923 in Canada, where they went for his birth. Soon afterwords they were back in Paris where Hemingway had more time to concentrate on his own writing.

This was the time when he discovered his interest in bull fighting and fishing. He went several years to Pamplona for the bull run which fascinated him. He was a very good observer and could later in detail tell on the terrible bull fights and how it looked when the bull died. Their last visit in 1925, was more or less the beginning to the end to Hemingway's marriage and also to friendships with their friends. He put a lot of them, not Hadley, into his new novel that was to become his first success; The Sun Also Rises.

Hadley, "I wished I had died
before I ever loved anyone
but her."
Said by Hemingway in
the end of his life
This is where the books end, just before his first novel. Just before the end of his marriage to Hadley, and just before he broke up to go with his mistress Pauline Pfeiffer. They eventually married.

The book is very well written and describes Paris life and makes it real. He also manages to describe
the relationship with Hadley and his other friends in Paris. These are the years where Hemingway fine tuned his writing, where he sent in short stories that came back. Often because they were to free in describing relationships. However, it paid out, and his future writing could be said to rest on the lessons he learned here.

An excellent read and necessary if you like Hemingway!

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