The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: absinthe, anyone?

My book club peeps wanted to read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. I did not. But I don’t make waves because they graciously allowed me to join their group after my last book club experiment ended with me crying in a driveway.

So I read The Paris Wife, and I loved it, which is why everyone should belong to a book club – for the challenge of stepping out of your comfort zone.

The novel tells the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, and their life together in Paris during the 1920s. That’s what threw me off – life in Paris in the 1920s. OH MON DIEU somebody prop open my eyelids. Drinking, the Seine, croissants, blah blah blah. I kind of feel this way about the movie The Artist, too, which SWEPT (according to Entertainment Tonight!) the Oscars this year. Can anyone convince me I won’t be bored into a coma by a black-and-white silent movie featuring a cute dog? I think I’d rather watch golf. Maybe I need to join a movie club, too.

Hemingway marries Hadley when he’s 21 years old, and she’s closing in on 30. He’s already a legend in his own mind, but nobody else has heard of him. He writes and writes and writes, but he hasn’t yet been published. Hadley – quiet, lonely, homely – has just buried her mother, and falls hard for the boisterous, adventurous Hemingway. They move to Paris so that he can pursue a literary career. He spends his days writing; at night, he and Hadley visit cafes and brasseries and become entwined with other literary ex-patriots including Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson and John Dos Passos. Lots of drinking ensued.

SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT: Hemingway eventually becomes wildly successful and famous. He begins hanging out with lots of carefree hedonists, and hedonism apparently is contagious. Relationship challenges follow.

The book certainly could be classified as a romance, and maybe that’s what else initially turned me off. I’m more of a dysfunction kind of gal. But – CHECK! – lots of dysfunction here. Hemingway did eventually kill himself, after all. The story is written in Hadley’s voice, and it’s astounding to hear her virtually abandon herself to allow Hemingway to shine. One of his greatest novels – The Sun Also Rises – was penned during their short time together. She sees brilliance in him, and she almost makes it her life’s mission to be the foundation allowing that genius to bloom. It reminded me of my own The GREATNESS, part II, because we always speak of Hemingway with such reverence – and certainly he was a GREAT writer. But he really wasn’t that great of a person. He was self-absorbed and stubborn, and not particularly loyal. Hadley, though, possessed that rare kind of GREATNESS born of recognizing and accepting that one’s own fate is to quietly facilitate the blossoming of someone else.

The other awesome part of The Paris Wife, which is based on biographies, past interviews, and Hadley’s own letters and words, is watching the artist at work. Hemingway’s compulsion to write was so all-encompassing that it became synonymous with being awake. As a writer myself, it certainly made me confront Hot Firefighter Husband immediately and tell him I need my own writing studio, 12 hours daily away from the children, relief from household chores, and a bottle of absinthe. Yep. That’s what I need.

Anyway, loved this book, and love my book club for making me read it. Next we’re tackling 50 Shades of Grey, an erotic novel that some people are calling mommy porn. WHEEEE! I’ve heard it’s not very well-written but has LOTS OF SEX. Again, not something I would have chosen. I wanted to read Katherine Boo’s behind the beautiful forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.  BUZZ KILL. So we debated – sex versus poverty. Dominatrix versus old woman digging through trash. Okay, fine. 50 Shades it is. Honestly, they had me at dominatrix.

5 responses to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: absinthe, anyone?

  1. Robert says:

    Book clubs seem to mostly be female enclaves. And in these enclaves, they usually only read books written by women. I’ve noticed that most women only read books written by women. I don’t remember ever seeing a book with a male author on my mother’s bookshelf. Straight men generally do not share an interest in what they read. To much touchy-feely material for the men. Get a little Clancey or Follett in there and we’ll talk, or read as the case may be.

    • Tricia says:

      Hilariously incorrect, Robert! We read LOTS of male authors. But I did mention three chicks, so I can understand the confusion. But Clancy? Oy vey.

  2. Robert, the Suspense book club I joined at my local library was all ladies and myself, but we read books by all kinds of authors…male, female,,established, first-timers..fiction and true crime non-fiction. It is not at all as you describe, so I can only hope it you really want this kind of experience that you will look for and find the right group, Perhaps you need to check your local options and your public library. Might not work for you, but it has for me.

    • Tricia says:

      Richard, glad you’ve got some fellow bookworms. 50 Shades should be an interesting discussion piece, yeah? ; }

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