Who is Hadley Richardson? That seems to be a question she herself is asking, that is until she meets a young Ernest Hemingway and falls madly in love with him. After a short time courting they find themselves married and living the starving artists dream in Paris surrounded by the pioneers of the "Lost Generation". But can they stay this happy forever?
Hemingway as a person has taken on an almost mythical persona in our time. A quick glance at his wikipedia page will show you numerous marriages, endless wars, bull fights, plane crashes and an eventual suicide. McLain does a fantastic job of exploring his early life in Paris, through the eyes of his first with Hadley. In The Paris Wife, Ernest seems like any driven young artist, working hard and living even harder. It is easy to see the transformation he goes through with fame, and he becomes a like-able antagonist.
While Hemingway's portrayal is great, that of Hadley Richardson is spectacular. The story is told by Hadley looking back on her life. Even knowing the outcome (the prologue ends with a warning to be on the lookout for the woman who will ruin your marriage) she speaks with an honest voice, looking back on the good times fondly and the bad honestly. She is hard on herself, which can be wearing at times, but it always comes back around. This is truly the story of a woman who put her life aside to help her husband and found that in the end it didn't matter. I know, that doesn't sound very modern, or even very hopeful - both of which are things that Hadley herself points out - but she grows from this experience and has her own happy life after Ernest.
I was very impressed with McLain's prose. Her words flow effortlessly together and I found myself swept up in them before I was convinced I would like the story (which I did).She also has a way with minor characters. Paris in the 1920's is a crowded place, especially in the ex-patriot scene. McLain presents Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stien, and the Fitzgeralds magnificently. With so many people coming in and out, often people one will have heard of in passing it could have been easy to get these minor characters confused with one another, but McLain works hard to make them each an individual.
Overall I was really impressed with The Paris Wife. It's not just for fans of Hemingway's work (which I am not) or of his life, but for people who love a good story. A great example of Historical Fiction not featuring someone related to Henry VIII!