Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Paris Wife

I’ve read a few books lately and they’ve mostly been forgettable – some of them squarely in the “summer beach reads” category of worthless time-passing, some of them I’ve abandoned after giving them the requisite 50 pages (my rule is that any book gets 50 pages and if I can’t get into it by then, I’m out) (the most recent of the abandoned books being a Kindle Special/Daily Deal, whatever, called The Boy in the Suitcase, translated from Danish.  I should have known better, as it combines painful subjects like human trafficking and the abduction of a three-year-old with a main character who is largely dislikeable) – but I’ve been wanting to tell you about one I read for Book Club.  I had to wait until after Book Club to do so, though, so I didn’t show my hand before we’d had our discussion.


Book Club is also “eating, drinking, and gossiping club,” just so you know.


Our selections for this meeting were The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.  I have long loved Hemingway (my brother claims that all women love Hemingway) and I guess I didn’t really have much of a desire to know about him and his life, but what I learned from The Paris Wife did not make me like him very much. 


The Paris Wife reads a bit like a diary of someone who’s life is unimaginably dull… I wondered from the outset how Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s starter wife, ever attracted and held onto such a lively, young artist.  By the end of the novel, of course, she doesn’t attract him anymore.  She’s portrayed as sad, boring, and introspective from the beginning, and yet she maintained friendships with a variety of interesting people in the European art-set in the twenties and even before her marriage had partied with animated friends.  My conclusion?  She wasn’t boring, but Paula McLain portrays her as such.


The other tough part about the book was getting to know Ernest Hemingway in all his faults.  His “artistic temperament” is stereotypical; his needs and whims were the only ones that were important to him, and Hadley meekly went along with each one.  He abused his friends and resents their success, even though he didn’t want to “use” his friendships to get ahead as an author.  He clearly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, albeit in a time when it was neither diagnosed nor treated.


The fun of reading The Paris Wife for me was seeing how characters and places from Hemingway’s real life mirrored characters and places in The Sun Also Rises.  And what a fantastic book that is!  I love the simplified imagery; it’s as if I can see every scene without effort.  The lack of backstories is explained in The Paris Wife as Hemingway develops his writing, and that is interesting to note in Sun as well.  However, no other aspect of The Paris Wife was fun.  It was a dreadful read.


Hemingway is not an uplifting writer.  The Sun Also Rises is not an uplifting book.  But it is a book with substance and a distilled beauty that I appreciate even more having read The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife is not an uplifting book, and is, in my opinion, a badly written one.


I would much preferred to have read Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife by Gioia Diliberto.  Check out this teaser:


“Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway were the golden couple of Paris in the twenties, the center of an expatriate community boasting the likes of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and James and Nora Joyce. In this haunting account of the young Hemingways, Gioia Diliberto explores their passionate courtship, their family life in Paris with baby Bumby, and their thrilling, adventurous relationship—a literary love story scarred by Hadley’s loss of the only copy of Hemingway’s first novel and ultimately destroyed by a devastating ménage à trois on the French Riviera.” 


That sounds much better than The Paris Wife.  Perhaps I will grab it from the library this week…

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