The Paris WIfr is a great book set in the 1920’s; those of you that have gone crazy for the recent Great Gatsby film will hopefully find this book of interest.
Paula McLain goes way to giving a voice to Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, as both her and Ernest explore the various literary scenes that Ernest attempted to penetrate. Not only is it a novel hugely interwoven in the experiences of authors like Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, but it gives insight into the mental and physical impact of relationships in this time period.
Hadley, Hemingway’s wife and the narrator of the novel, sacrifices her own passions in life and follows her husband, encouraging his success. Hadley’s narration is very honest, and easily accessible which reflects her personality in the novel as pure with simple morals. As the complete antithesis to the wild and varied sexual groups of the literary scene, she often feels alienated and threatened by the never-ending months of drugs, drink and sex. Whilst Ernest is quite selfish in the way he throws himself into this world, Hadley struggles in her role on the outskirts, often seen as just ‘the author’s wife’.
With novels that are based on the lives of real people, I’m always cautious to avoid seeing them as historical texts (English degree problem there), and so even though the novel is well researched, I’d recommend it not for its historical accuracy, but it’s accessible narration, interesting plot, and complex but subtle characterisation.
I found McLain’s writing style very enjoyable, and found myself moved by Hadley’s narration. McLain manages to capture the pings of paranoia and jealousy that we can all feel at times, alongside creatively threading Ernest’s inner thoughts and feelings into the plot.
Whilst McLain’s novel portrays the 1920’s in a more subtle way than Fitzgerald, it is no less beautiful, no less mesmerising, and no less heartbreaking.