The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, is the retelling of the Paris years of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. Prior to this novelistic tale, Hadley Richardson’s biography had been written and released twice (in 1992, titled Hadley, and in 2011 titled Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife) by Gioia Diliberto. Her biography was exhaustively researched and also relied on taped conversations with Richardson, who died in 1979.

First let me say how much I appreciated McLain’s writing. Lyrical at times, reportorial at others, it drove a story that could have been—should have been—boring, considering that the facts appeared not only in Diliberto’s previous biographies but also in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, his own telling of their Paris days. Clear as a bell, with the ability to have slipped beneath Richardson’s skin to tell her story, McLain and her prose were excellent. Therefore, much praise for her writing.

However, I found it odd, and at times felt myself indignant for Richardson’s memory, that another woman should take on her persona, telling the story as Hadley’s, in the first person. Yes, I’m aware it’s a novel–a fiction, but I must admit to feeling squeamish and insulted for Hadley Richardson. It just felt wrong to have McLain pass herself off as Hadley Richardson.

Also, there’s this. As agents are always on the hunt for something new and fresh, how does the retelling of a story told twice in recent years qualify as new and fresh? Was it simply because the story had passed from the nonfiction to fiction category?

Bottom line: I can recommend the story on the strength of its wonderful writing. It’s certainly worth reading. As for opinions on the rest, you’ll have to make up your own mind.

Leave a Reply