A Movable Feast; ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain

I was 18 when I visited Paris, Montmartre to be specific. It was magnificent, culturally different to anything I was used to and even though I was not on top form (suffering from insomnia; how my friends put up with me, I don’t know!) it far from failed at being beautifully inspiring.

Paris has an intellectual and cultural allure; it is beautifully grimy, secretively open and destructively generous. In the 1920s the Russian artist Marc Chagall wrote of coming to Monparnasse, Paris, “I aspired to see with my own eyes what I had heard of from so far away: this revolution of the eye, this rotation of colours…, that could not be seen in my town. The sun of Art then shone only on Paris.”From What Paris Paris was an artistic and intellectual Mecca, and it was this image which drew me to The Paris Wife.

One of the best things about Paris was coming back after we’d gone away. […] It was filthy and gorgeous, full of rats and horse chestnut blossoms and poetry. […] Interesting people were everywhere just then. The Cafes of Montparnasse breathed them in and out; French painters and Russian Dancers and American writers. On any given night, you could see Picasso walking from Saint-Germain to his apartment in the rue des Grands-Augustins, always exact the same route and always looking quietly at everyone and everything.Extract from The Paris Wife

I began this literary adventure as a Hemingway novice; I knew little to nothing about Ernest Hemingway, having one wife was new to me, let alone four. I slowly devoured this book, I wanted to learn about Hadley and Ernest as I read, so I researched their Parisian adventures as I consumed McLain’s wondrous fiction. When I finally left their world, I left with an absolute love and fascination for the first Mrs Hemingway.

The first thing I noticed while reading The Paris Wife was how connected I felt to Hadley, I understood her detachment and naive connection to society – her isolation from life, her daydreaming. Hadley reminded me of myself; the naive character who blooming so differently from Ernest. Hadley was such a marvellous character, McLain’s skill at taking a historical character that could have easily been portrayed as weak or pathetic and making her utterly human radiates throughout the novel. Even though The Paris Wife is classed as fiction its structure, faithfully following the facts, just adds to its realistic feel and makes me love the book even more.

This isn’t a detective story – not hardly. I don’t want to say, Keep watch for the girl who will come along and ruin everything, but she is coming anyway, set on her course in a gorgeous chipmunk coat and fine shoes, her sleek brown hair bobbed so close to her well-made head she’ll seem like a pretty otter in my kitchen. […] Ernest will read his book and care nothing for her. Not at first. And the tea will boil in the teapot, and I’ll tell her a story about a girl she and I both knew a hundred years ago in St Louis, and we’ll feel like quick and natural friends while across the yard, in a sawmill, a dog will start barking and keep barking and he won’t stop for anything.Extract from The Paris Wife

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘Happiness in intelligent people is one of the rarest things I know’. While supportive and malleable you never feel Hadley is oblivious to Hemminways detachment; she overlooks or chooses not to acknowledge certain faults he has. I felt Hadley marries Ernest knowing what he is, loving the good and trying to placate the bad. She is devastated when it ends yet, I felt she knew this would happen eventually. Ernest’s needy nature was sucking the life from her; it must have been as exhausting as it was wonderful.

I cannot recommend The Paris Wife enough! Go out, buy it, read it and then go back out and buy copies for your friends. Now.

Image from Wikipedia

4 thoughts on “A Movable Feast; ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain

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