I’m a huge history nerd, and my favourite era is the 1920s, so when I heard about The Paris Wife, I couldn’t wait to read it. The wife is Hadley Richardson, the first of four women married to Ernest Hemingway. They were wed in 1921, and spent most of their five year marriage in Paris during that legendary age when the first wave of literary expatriates moved to Paris.
Having read A Movable Feast – Hemingway’s account of those years, I was already familiar with their story. This was a much different perspective. Partly, because the story is told from Hadley’s point of view, but also because it’s fiction. The people and events are real, but the narrative is not.
The story is told in the first person, and the author is so convincing in giving Hadley a voice, I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t an autobiography. She was a conventional woman, living in an unconventional place, during an unconventional time. Ernest was a shell shocked, egocentric man-child, trying to get his career off the ground. They seemed happy together though, and despite knowing that history had already decided the fate of their marriage, I still found myself routing for them right up to the end.
Even if you’re not interested in the jazz age or the Hemingway mystique, The Paris Wife is still a great novel. Among the name dropping and historical references, there’s an endearing story about the complicated dynamics of relationships and marriage.
If I was to recommend a beach read for this summer, The Paris Wife would be it.