The voice of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, in “The Paris Wife” was so authentic that I found myself shocked this was a work of fiction rather than an autobiography. The writing was strong and believable, making the novel a pleasant read. The social scene of Paris, while present, played a smaller role than I had would have liked. But Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald make memorable appearances. I enjoyed the trip the Hemingways take to Spain, where the author provided a strong description of bullfights and toreadors that would become the foundation for “The Sun Also Rises.” That trip was so real, I instantly recalled my own journey to Madrid and attendance at a bullfight.
At the core, the book was excellent. Despite the genuineness of the writing, my issue with this book was that the characters were utterly unlikable. Hemingway was depicted as a selfish, single-minded, philandering man who feels nothing but anguish as he attempts to write his first great masterpiece. Without a career or life of her own, Hadley quickly became an annoying character. She was reduced to doing laundry and waiting for Hemingway to return to the apartment in Paris. She was so lonely when Hemingway traveled through Europe to soak up the culture in an attempt to write that she falls into a semi-depression. Although she was several years older than Hemingway, she was quite sheltered and awkward around him because she felt he was so much more experienced that she was. As a result, by the end of the novel, Hadley had changed from a doting wife to a pathetic shell of a woman. For me, this made the book difficult to finish because I love strong, intelligent characters, and have little empathy for characters who succumb to a unfulfilling life for apparently no reason at all.
Overall, this book was great, but I personally wasn’t thrilled with Hadley and that made the book less fulfilling for me. To enjoy this novel, you would have to be forgiving of a main character who was slightly unlikable.