The Paris Wife

Before I started this blog, I would say that when I felt I couldn’t write, I would just go back to reading. Really, its the opposite side of the same coin–as Stephen King says: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that”, and he’s published a book or two, I think he’s pretty trustworthy.

ImageOf course, I would read for months at a time before writing down anything more than cryptic notes that not even I could understand.  Or worse yet, I wouldn’t read or write, and I’d have no momentum to do one or the other.  In “Almost Famous“, Penny Lane advises teenaged writer William Miller that “if he ever gets lonely, go to the record store and see your friends”.  Of course, record stores don’t exist anymore, but I feel the same way about bookstores.  If ever I feel discouraged or uninspired, I’ll go round to the nearby Chapters bookstore, get a latte, and poke around.  Image

On the most recent trip there, having just devoured both Caitlin Moran books, and my interest fading in Jenny Lawson, I wandered through the fiction section–though I am a pretty strict reader of memoirs, humor and personal essays–“The Paris Wife” caught my eye.  I’ve read reviews and recommendations, and though it is fictional, it is about real people, Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, in Paris in the 1920’s.  Sold!

paris wife

That night I crawled into bed with my new book…and fell asleep almost immediately. Night after night this was happening, until I come to realize that I was just not that into this book.  Yesterday afternoon I attempted once again, and found myself glazing over the same page. Why am I not digging this book?  It’s got lots of elements to enjoy: Paris, the 1920’s, famous writers, failed marriages…but I’m not consumed, I’m not entirely interested.  Maybe I’m not feeling connected to Hadley, the wife who mopes around Paris while Hemingway writes, and works as a foreign corespondent for “The Toronto Star“.  Her whole life revolves around her husband, which is so dangerous–I mean, I love the ever loving shit out of Ben, but I can easily fill the day in his absence.  After reading reviews on this incredibly popular book, I have to cry out a massive “THANK YOU” to New York Times critic Janet Maslin, who called Hadley a “stodgy bore”.  Maybe that’s what it is–she just bores me.  But listen, the book is not over yet, though they’ve just moved to Toronto to have their baby, apparently they go back to Paris–their undoing is yet to be done.

But it brings up an interesting point: in this fast-paced, short attention spanned world, how do you capture a readers attention and maintain that grasp?  I was speaking to a writer recently, her first novel about to be published, and she said that of the beginning of her own book, that to establish the story requires details that are not always immediately thrilling.    Sometimes the introduction has to begin as a slow burn, before the fire really gets going.


And this is true for the writing process, and for the building of a platform or fan base.  These things take time, but there needs to be a commitment to making it work, just like in a marriage.  In “The Paris Wife”, Hemingway is captured as a frustrated, unpublished writer, who is trying to find his style.  He puts this work before his relationship with Hadley.  He works diligently, has an enormous amount of material: manuscripts, vignettes, short stories.  Good ole Hadley, on her way to meet him after a separation caused by his work–empties out his shelf of said work and then leaves it on the train, goes to get a drink and stretch her legs, and comes back to find it stolen.  Oh my god, the mind reels, that would be the longest journey of your life, knowing that you had to admit that news, and that it would ultimately change your marriage–and historically speaking it was the beginning of their end.  And though I haven’t finished the book, I know that infidelity, betrayal and divorce is on the menu–which seems to be an recurring theme in Hemingway’s life–which ended when he committed suicide in 1961.

What I can appreciate is that Paula McLain wrote “The Paris Wife” as an answer to “The Sun Also Rises“.  Hadley Richardson supported him, loved him, waited for him, and then he wrote this fictional account about a time in their marriage, but hardly made mention of her.   Instead he creates a love story between his impotent protagonist and a promiscuous divorcee, who was based on a woman from their social circle.  He did dedicate the book to her, and the book and film rights were given to her.  Though they divorced, they remained friendly.  Apparently before Hemingway shot himself, he called Hadley and they reminisced about those years in Paris.  The general consensus amongst scholars is that Hadley was his greatest love, for Hemingway had once said: “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her”.


For more information on the many lives and wives of Ernest Hemingway–this was an interesting site:

2 thoughts on “The Paris Wife

  1. Calli

    Interesting, I read this book about two weeks ago and actually really liked it – although I wanted so badly for Hadley to grow a spine and come into her own, she seemed very immature to me. I’m not sure I really “liked” any of the characters in this book, which isn’t always a bad thing, however it did leave me awake at night contemplating life and the paths we choose and how easy it is to change everything with one decision.

    Also, knowing she was only the first in a string of Hemingway’s wives I kept pulling for them to make it work, and of course felt heartbroken when it all fell apart. Perhaps I’m just more of a sucker for missed chances and yearning than the classic ‘they lived happily ever after’.

    • aliciaashcroft

      Okay, well I’m keen to finish the book–the research I did about these people was really interesting so I want that closure now. But yes! Hadley does seem to be weak willed and it’s annoying! I’ll tell you when I finish the book and we can really hash it out! x


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