The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain is a book that has been on my radar for a while.
It was a change from the young adult dystopian fiction that I have been reading lately so I was excited for it.
The book is striking in many ways. I was immediately drawn in by the language and the writing style. There is no mistake that this book was written for adults. The language is beautiful. The sentences are all thoughtfully structured.
I knew pretty much nothing about Ernest Hemingway prior to reading the book. Hemingway had never been a favorite author of mine.
I love the idea of focusing on his wife. Women are so often overlooked if they are not the ones out there blazing the trail. Throughout my life, I have been struck by how much the success of someone can depend on the support they have in their life. Many individual successes (such as publishing a great novel) depend on the support structures in place. In this book, the author discusses and examines the ways in which Ernest’s first wife supported him throughout his early years writing in Paris. She gave him the space to write and the encouragement to seize life and explore. She also worked on playing the supportive wife as he met with other great artistic minds in Jazz Age Paris. He would discuss the newest ideas and structures for writing or art while she sat and had tea or wine with the partners.
The sights and sounds of Jazz Age Paris come alive in these pages. I can smell the cigarette smoke, taste the sharp licorice sting of the absinthe and fell the shaking of apartment floors as many pairs of feet stomp and dance across them, wearing lines into the hardwood. I have never romanticized Paris (at least not more than your average American twenty something who has a list of places to visit before they die) but this book found me longing for that time and place, feeling sad for all the sights and sounds that will never be viewed by myself or anyone else for that matter.
I found myself longing for the happiness I felt she deserved. The way the story is structured makes you invested in the future happiness and success of those characters.
While the marriage ends in a divorce, the ending is ultimately happy for her as she found a new love and made a new life. I think that is an oft overlooked part of the story. In the face of adversity and the loss of a love that drove her every thought and moment for years, she can still overcome that to end up with her eventual long-term husband.
In the end, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a fascination with the written word.