Author: Paula McLain
Read: September 2017
This is a historical fiction about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, and their married life. Much of the book takes place in 1920’s Paris. They first met in Chicago, which is where the story begins, and after they were married and living in France, the couple often took trips to other European countries.
When I first started reading this book I was excited. Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres and I love the 20’s Jazz Age. I had never read anything about Hemingway and I knew nothing about him (besides the fact that he was a famous writer). From the outside, everything about this book seemed perfect. I was sure I was going to love it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. As I read this novel, even from the beginning, I realized that it would be difficult to get through.
“People belong to each other only as long as they both believe. He’s stopped believing.”
I quickly grew tired of Hadley as a character. I felt that she was too dependent on Ernest. If this was supposed to make me feel sorry for how their marriage ended, it didn’t. I was constantly annoyed with her. I could barely manage to read this book all the way through. I tried to remind myself that the story isn’t taking place today, but this was the 20’s! Women were coming out of their shell, becoming bolder, being defined differently. Hadley was more old-fashioned than the other women she was around throughout the novel. I didn’t mind this. It was the fact that she came across as not her own person.
She didn’t work, meaning she was monetarily dependent on her husband, which isn’t surprising. She only had the one hobby of playing piano occasionally, even though she played all the time before she met and married Ernest. Hadley was a wife but it’s not like she had stuff to take care of all day every day. They lived in small apartments and she “kept house” in the morning while he was working and then would visit the market. She liked taking walks around Paris while she did this (at least she did something). Ernest wasn’t around most of the day because he insisted on being by himself since he couldn’t work with Hadley, or anyone else, around. He would rent out a single room, about the size of a closet, and he would write all day. She didn’t have any friends so she spent most of the day by herself. I just got the sense that she was waiting around for him all the time. She didn’t like being without him. When he got the chance to travel for writing jobs, Hadley would become so depressed she could barely do anything and she never left the house. She’d create a pit for herself and only climb out once she knew that Ernest was returning soon.
All of Hadley’s friends were the wives of other writers or people attached to artists in some way. They would meet when they all got together and some would become friendships and some faded. On the occasion that she did make friends, Ernest usually ended up disliking them for one reason or another (unless they’re named Pauline, which he still didn’t like at first).
The fact of the matter is that Ernest was the love of Hadley’s life. She was his number one supporter in everything he did. She stood by his side through everything, even when he pushed away friends and mentors. She even stuck around for a while after he cheated on her with her closest and dearest friend at the time. That was just too much for me. I couldn’t handle Hadley as a character. I could only take her seriously for about the first hundred pages or so and I was hoping that it would pick up and get better. I mean this is the wife of one of the great writers in American history. There had to be something about her that made her worth loving. Overall, it was a disappointment to read.
“You make your life with someone and you love that person and you think it’s enough. But it’s never enough, is it?”
I couldn’t even focus on the writing that much because of how tired I was of the book. I was so caught up in how much I didn’t want to be reading it. I have nothing against the author or her writing style. If this is truly the type of person that Hadley was, then this was no shortcoming of the author’s. She managed to tell a story that I had no idea about. Something should be said about how consistent McLain was in making Hadley herself. She didn’t change for anyone, even after being surrounded by certain types of people for years, and I can appreciate a new type of character. Still, I couldn’t fully get into this novel since nearly the entire book was written from her point of view.
Honestly, if you appreciate a character with a backbone and an actual personality then don’t even give this book another glance. It made me want to never read a book written by Hemingway ever again. Unfortunately, I still have one on my shelf that I haven’t cracked open and it needs to be read to accomplish my goal.