I could not resist buying this book, for its setting: 1920s Europe, predominantly; its set of characters, including seminal American writers; and its intriguing perspective on Hemingway’s first marriage and rise to fame. From the blurb:
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a shy twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness when she meets Ernest Hemingway and is captivated by his energy, intensity and burning ambition to write. After a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for France. But glamorous Jazz Age Paris, full of artists and writers, fuelled by alcohol and gossip, is no place for family life and fidelity. Ernest and Hadley’s marriage begins to founder, and the birth of a beloved son serves only to drive them further apart. Then, at last, Ernest’s ferocious literary endeavours begin to bring him recognition – not least from a woman intent on making him her own . . .
Quite simply this is the best book I’ve read in a long while – and I’ve read many superb books! The writing is exquisite – moving, insightful, fascinating, illuminating and carefully researched.
There are four aspects to the book that I love.
The writing style
I adore Paula’s writing style. As a reader, you have the sense that – like Hemingway – she has slaved over each sentence, and carefully crafted the book. There’s no hectic rush though the story; she takes her time and describes details that really bring the story to like. Here’s one of my favourite passages:
For the first time since I was a girl, I felt the heady rush of being afraid, and liked the sensation. At the bottom, I’d barely come to a stop when Ernest whirled me up out of the dark and kissed me hard. I felt his tongue for a hot instant against my lips.
‘Oh,’ was all I could say. I couldn’t think about whether anyone was watching. I couldn’t think at all. his face was inches from mine, more carged and convinving and altogether awake than anything I’d ever seen.
‘Oh,’ I said again, and he let me go.
Wonderful. Paris came to life for me through the descriptions, and I could picture each location and relate it to my current experience of the city. I enjoyed the descriptions of all the places the characters visited – especially Spain, for the Running of the Bulls festival. The book really encapsulates the Jazz Era and the bohemian scene during the inter-war period.
I so admire the lead character, Hadley – the Paris wife – and I was fascinated by Hemingway; he’s a tragic but lovable character. I also loved getting to know other writers of the day, like Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ford Maddox Ford.
The depiction of the writer’s struggle
This is a book to warm the heart of a writer. We see Hemingway’s struggle with his craft, his mistakes and his triumphs. What most stood out for me was his ambition. This was a man doggedly determined to go down in history as a great writer… and so he has.
The Paris Wife is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.