Wednesday, March 02, 2011


I rarely toss aside a book without at least skimming to the end, especially when I received an advance copy and feel an obligation to write a comprehensive review. But, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain has defeated me. I've peeked at LibraryThing and Amazon reviews, which are glowing, so I want to make the disclaimer that this book is simply not for me. I appear to be an exception, so you may well love this book. I'm going to explain what I didn't like about it, which may be exactly what you're looking for in a beach read.

The Paris Wife is about Hemingway and 1920s Paris, shown through the eyes of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife. I was very excited about this one. I enjoy fictionalized accounts of real people. I'm fascinated by the 1920s, and what a juicy setting is the expat community in Paris at that time? But this book left me cold. I tried a dozen times over three months to plough through it, but I simply never cared about the characters. The writing is fine, though the dialogue is stilted. Hadley is not a well-drawn character, and certainly lacks the depth to carry a first-person narration. Hadley before Hemingway is boring, and I didn't care about her at all. She tells us some of her feelings about being a spinster, but McLain stops short of giving her breath. She's a paper doll, well-dressed in 1920s fashions, but with nothing behind them. I was relieved when Hemingway came on the scene, because he can't possibly be dull, right? Well, apparently, he can when told through a fictionalized Hadley's eyes. When they finally arrive in Paris, I was again relieved, because at least there's the interesting expat community. But that, too, had a shallow feel, and it never evinced any emotion from me except a mild, "Oh, look, Gertrude Stein" or "Hey, there's James Joyce." Because everything is told through Hadley's eyes and Hadley is not a nuanced, interesting character, nothing she sees has any depth. I would have learned more about who Hemingway really was as a human being by reading a biography.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from Ballantine Books through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

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