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The Paris Wife

May 28, 2011

The Paris Wife

by Paula Mclain

Since I have so little time to read these days I get justifiably upset when I read something completely overrated. And The Paris Wife? It is so overrated that I am mystified as to how this book came to be published.

I was on the fence about reading this book when I read the synopsis but I decided to move forward because 

a. I LOVED the cover of this book
b. I am obsessed with Paris, and
c. I found a copy sitting in my mom’s family room.

Needless to say I learned my lesson that a free book + a beautiful cover does not always equal a good read.

Frankly, I don’t understand why this book has such a great reviews! Even Amazon.com reviewers – whom I usually consider the holy grail for objective and spot-on reviews – gave this a million and one points. Go figure.

In short, The Paris Wife is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway, his first wife Hadley, and their life together in Paris. While this book cannot be considered non-fiction, it is, according to author Paula McClain, based on historical material and Hemingway’s own works. In other words, it is mostly true. Or as far as Paula Mclain is concerned anyway.

What I liked about this book:

  • Prior to reading this I had no idea that Hemingway struggled so much, as a writer and as a person. Clearly he had some sort of mentally instability or maybe he was depressed? In any case this book certainly brought me up to speed in an educational sense. (Assuming once again, that McClain knows what she’s writing about.)
  • Paula Mclain has done what appears to be a good job thoroughly researching and compiling information about Hemingway.
  • I love the pretty cover. I may have already mentioned that.

What I didn’t like:

  • Aside from depicting the glamour and energy of a city I love, this book is utterly boring.
  • The main problem with the characters isn’t that there are so many – which there are – but rather that they are flat and uninspiring. Am I supposed to believe that Ernest Hemingway’s only qualities are that he’s self-absorbed and unfaithful? And what about his wife Hadley? I wanted her to get angry, to freak out, to show some personality! But to my disappointment, Paula Mclain did not bring Hadley, Ernest, or any of the other characters to life.
  • Since this is a fictionalized account of Hemingway and Hadley’s life I would imagine the author had limitless opportunities to inject excitement so I’m not sure why Mclain didn’t take the opportunity to do so.

I somehow managed to muddle through this entire book and yet I still have no idea what made Hemingway and Hadley’s marriage special. To me they were just like any other couple…their marriage was full of challenges when it comes to money, family, and career. But so what? If I wanted to know more about a dysfunctional marriage I’d  just pick up a copy of People.

Bottom Line : My main problem with this book is that it didn’t need to be written. Why? Well because any true Hemingway fan would simply pick up a biography instead of a work of fiction. But I’m obviously in the minority here, so read this if you have any interest in following the story of a woman who is basically a doormat for a husband who drops her like a hot potato as he rises to fame and fortune.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2011 11:12 am

    I love a good honest review because like you, there’s so little time to read a book with all that needs to be done and also the allure of the internet. I will not read this book for sure. I trust you because everybook you put on your book list on your other site is on my top ten too. Especially A Thousand Splendid Suns. I cried for several days during and after reading it. First that I was lucky enough to get out of a country that often treats women the same way and second that a man could so eloquently and beautifully write about the suffering.

    • May 31, 2011 2:25 am

      I too was shocked that a man could so easily write from a woman’s point of view. The truth is that I rarely enjoy books by male authors, regardless of the topic, so this one really surprised me.

  2. May 30, 2011 12:01 pm

    I definitely think we have similar tastes. I agree – the only thing “compelling” about this book to me is the cover ;). I seen Jenna from ELR review it and she loved it, but she seems to like these more fictional ‘historical’ type books?

    I love this site! Why did you decide to do a separate one from your blog? When did you start it? This is so exciting to me and interesting! I am going to peruse it now 🙂

    • May 30, 2011 4:45 pm

      Thank you! I know that not everybody is an avid reader like I am so I figured I’d separate my two sites out so that I don’t bore people. I may still bore people but I hope this minimizes the likelihood!

  3. May 30, 2011 12:41 pm

    I’d heard good things about this book too, but I think I’ll take a pass now. Honestly, I’d rather pick up a copy of People. Thanks for the honest review Ameena.

  4. May 30, 2011 4:38 pm

    Okay, WHY did I not know you had a book site? I feel like a failure. But I feel like a lottery winner at the same time since now I have a trove of book reviews to check out. I finished The Help yesterday and today is Memorial day and all of the libraries are closed! I am sad.

    Wow, I’m a whiner. I guess I feel like I can whine to you because you’re a mama ; )

    • June 1, 2011 2:08 pm

      Please don’t feel like a failure! I failed because apparently I didn’t make it clear enough. And you can whine to me anytime…as a mom I can handle it.

  5. May 31, 2011 6:11 am

    Definitely looks interesting. I will try to find it at my local bookstore. 🙂

  6. May 31, 2011 1:27 pm

    I dd read a negative review of this somewhere (can’t remember where!) so I had decided to pass on it. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast deals with this period in his life. I did it on audio when I was commuting (and in my Hemingway phase when I listened to all of his books.) It was interesting. I find that books like this “based” on fact are a bit odd. I read The Women by T.C. Boyle about Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife and love. I also read Gatsby’s Girl (forget the author) based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and his inspiration for The Great Gatsby. Neither was very satisfying. I think authors need to come up with their own ideas and write or if they are going to write about real people, they need to be more interesting! Thanks for the review, Ameena!

    • June 1, 2011 2:48 am

      I loved The Great Gatsby and was on the fence about Gatsby’s Girl…if it wasn’t very satisfying than I won’t waste my time! Thank you for letting me know. Have you heard of Loving Frank? I hear it’s an amazing account of Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife. I’ve heard amazing things about it so it’s on my list!

      • June 4, 2011 7:54 pm

        I read that and it was good. It was better than The Women. I’m so fascinated by Frank Lloyd Wright and the amazing building he created. I have the book The Fellowship to read about him. Haven’t gotten to it yet.

  7. May 31, 2011 7:55 pm

    I actually did like that book even though I agree with a lot of your points. Maybe I read a little too much and saw it as historical fiction also: Europe struggling after the war, lost generation trying to prove that they are living no matter what costs, traditional wife vs emerging new independent female role. I think at times I forget how dependent and minimal the female role was in the 20s.

    • June 1, 2011 2:10 pm

      You make a good point…with the exception of Ellis Island, my tastes don’t usually run towards historical fiction and this could be part of the reason I didn’t care for this book.

  8. May 31, 2011 9:23 pm

    Great review…I am so disappointed and was considering getting this book. I have so little time and hate wasting it. The cover is pretty fantastic though 🙂

  9. June 1, 2011 3:44 am

    I hate when books disappoint me. I remember one awhile back that I was so excited for. The cover was pretty (because that’s actually how I choose them) and the summary was hilarious. Then it sucked. Then it sucked some more.

    Thanks for reviewing this. Now I won’t bother adding it to my list of books to get.

  10. June 1, 2011 4:05 am

    Okay, why did I not know that you have a separate blog for reviewing books? Probably because I can’t stop chuckling as you regale us with your family updates on Fancy That Fancy This!

    But, yes, nothing is worse than reading a bad book. Ugh. I probably wouldn’t even have bothered finishing this one, based on your review. Looking forward to more reviews, now that I have discovered this site!

  11. June 4, 2011 1:33 am

    I’m so glad you you posted this and saved me the trouble of reading The Paris Wife. I just got it from the library with 4 other books due at the same time – guess which one is going back unread?

    • June 4, 2011 8:43 pm

      What were the other 3 books you borrowed? I love hearing what other people are reading. Guess what? I’ll be in Seattle at the end of this month. I’d love to meet up if you have time!

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