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Book Review – The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – 4 stars

The Paris Wife book cover

The Paris Wife book cover

I’m moving my family with me to Norway! We have accepted a two year expatriate assignment to Trondheim through my company. This is a bittersweet and exciting time for us, filled with turmoil and churning insides.

Everyone in our culture is busy these days and there’s no point in saying that I’m busy because it doesn’t have any significance in this age, however considering that I’m working as long and hard as ever, while sorting through all of our belongings and making myriad preparations and decisions gives me a new perspective on busy. We moved to Canberra 8 years ago and have very much made a comfortable home for ourselves here and a large and supportive network of dear friends.

When I moved to Canberra I only knew a couple of people and after about 4 months I started a book group and invited nearly all of my acquaintances to join. During the past 8 years we have built enduring friendships and the book group still meets once each month.

In the past year I have travelled so much that I have missed most of the meetings. I also haven’t had much time for reading and the majority of my reading has focused on the Arab world so I haven’t been participating in book group even by distance. Now it’s my last month in Canberra and, by coincidence my turn to host book group. I put down the 4 books I’m reading about the Middle East and thought frantically about what to choose. Eventually I settled on The Paris Wife by Paula McLain which I read about online.

The Paris Wife is the story of Ernest Hemingway meeting and falling in love with, moving to Paris with, having a child with, then cheating on and leaving his first wife Hadley. The book is told in the first person by Hadley as a recollection from the distant future.

I loved this passage on their first date together:

Hadley – I suppose it’s embarrassing, but I’ve never had olives before
Ernest – That should be illegal. Here, open.
He put the olive on my tongue, and as I closed my mouth around it, oily and warm with salt, I found myself flushing from the deliciousness but also the intimacy, his fork in my mouth. It was the most sensual thing that had happened to me in ages.
Ernest – Well?
Hadley – I love it. Though it’s a little dangerous, isn’t it?
He smiled and looked at me appreciatively.

As you’ve probably noticed by now from reading my blog, I am self directed and always seeking something novel. I am totally devoted to my family and enriched every moment through motherhood but I don’t define myself solely as wife and mother. As a result, I seek authors that can write about people like me that see life as a smorgasbord of opportunities that they seize with two arms and two legs in a massive bear hug of enthusiasm.

It wasn’t easy for me to read Hadley’s story of utter lack of direction, drive and verve but instead subjugation to Ernest’s every whim.

Hadley: What was really unacceptable were bourgeois values, wanting something small and staid and predictable, like one true love, or a child… I was supposed to have my own ideas and ambitions and be incredibly hungry for experience and newness of every variety. But I wasn’t hungry; I was content.

As a result, for me, the most interesting aspect of the book, by far, was life in Paris in the 1920s and the turgid world of the writers and artists. It was fascinating to read about F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. It was also very interesting to read about Hemingway developing his writing style. I’m going to seek out his books now, especially his memoir about this time: A Moveable Feast!

McLain did a lot of research to write this enthralling book and she has this to say about the historical aspects of the book:

In Ernest Hemingway’s introduction to his memoir, A Moveable Feast, he writes, “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.” I’m hoping my novel will work to illuminate not just the facts of Ernest and Hadley’s years in Paris, but the essence of that time and of their profound connection by weaving both the fully imagined and undeniably real.

If you have a spare few hours, go ahead and read this great book and tell me what you think!

Doesn’t a passage like this make you ache in your bones to be in Paris in the 1920s?

I liked to walk to Les Halles, the open-air market that was known as the Stomach of Paris. I loved the maze of stalls and stands with offerings more exotic than anything I’d ever seen back home. There was all manner of game, venison and boar and pyramids of soft, limp hares. Everything was displayed naturally, hooves and tusks and fur left intact so you knew just what you were looking at. Although it was disconcerting to know these creatures had recently been up and running in the nearby fields and farms, there was something almost beautiful in the sheer volume and variety of things on display,  all edible in some form. I didn’t know what to do with most of it – unplucked pheasant and goose, or the baskets of small dun-colored birds I couldn’t even identify  – but I loved to look before gravitating toward the vegetable and fruit stalls. But in the alleyways behind the marketplace, fruit and meat rotted in crates. Rats crawled… I wanted to drop my basket where it was and run away, but we weren’t rich enough for symbolic gestures. So I walked

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3 comments on “Book Review – The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – 4 stars

  1. Megan
    July 1, 2015

    Wow, Norway! Amazing. Norwegians tease people from Trondheim for having a funny accent. I once stayed in a farmhouse in the south with a beautiful family whose mum was from Trondheim and they teased her no end! Sorry we have seen so little of each other. When do you leave? Hope can see you before you go xoxo

  2. Pingback: Book Review – A Moveable Feast | strivetoengage

  3. Pingback: Book Reflections – Conditions of Faith  | strivetoengage

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This entry was posted on July 1, 2015 by in fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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