Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain


Title: The Paris Wife

Author: Paula Mclain

Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st edition (February 22, 2011)

ISBN 10: 0345521307

Pages: 336 pages

Format: Audio Book

About the Book:

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.  (From

Setting:  Chicago,Illinois and Paris, France


About the Author:
Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working as a nurses aid in a convalescent hospital, a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker, a cocktail waitress–before discovering she could (and very much wanted to) write. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996. Since then, she has received fellowships from the corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first book of poetry, Less of Her, was published in 1999 from New Issues Press and won a publication grant from the Greenwall Fund of the Academy of American Poets. She’s also the author of a second collection of poetry, Stumble, Gorgeous, a memoir, Like Family: Growing Up In Other People’s Houses, and the novel, A Ticket to Ride. Her most recent book is The Paris Wife, a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and upstart years in 1920’s Paris, as told from the point of view of his wife, Hadley. She teaches in the MFA Program in Poetry at New England College, and lives with her family in Cleveland.

Related Media: – Paula McLain on Ernest Hemingway and The Paris Wife.

My favorite part of writing a book review is doing the online research.   I wish I would have done some research into the life on Ernest Hemingway before reading The Paris Wife.  I believe it would have enhanced my reading experience of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.


Hadley Richardson, 1921

Ernest & Hadley Hemingway, Switzerland 1922 Ernest & Hadley’s Wedding Day, 1921 Ernest, Hadley and Bumby – 1925

Hemingway and 2nd Wife, Pauline

Paris, 1925

My Review:  I read/listened to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain for my book group, Books & Babble.    I struggled to really get into the book initially, but was engaged and interested in the lives of Ernest and Hadley through out the last half of the book.  I found the setting and time period of the book very interesting.   The 1920’s in Paris was a very interesting time in history and literature.   My knowledge of Ernest Hemingway was limited before starting the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed completing the research of this book review.  I loved finding pictures of the people in the book and learning more about them. 

The Paris Wife is the love story of Ernest Hemingway and his 1st wife, Hadley Richardson.   The story is told from Hadley’s perspective.  I found Hadley to be a very loving and dedicated wife.  She fully supported Ernest and his work.   Ernest was very dedicated to making himself a writer and the pursuit of achieving that.  I really didn’t care for Ernest a great deal.  The 1920’s in Paris was an environment of more personal freedom and free thinking than I was aware of .   I am unsure if it was the time or simply the group of writers that promoted this sense of freedom. 

The introduction of Pauline Pfeiffer into Ernest’s and Hadley’s life was difficult to watch play out.  As the demise of the marriage of Ernest and Hadley became evident, I really was hoping Hadley would stand up for herself a bit.   I could never tolerate the events that Hadley did in her marriage. 

The Paris Wife is a fictional story of Ernest and Hadley’s time in Paris that is based very closely on actual events, the best I can tell.     I would like to read A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which is Ernest’s account of his and Hadley’s time in Paris.   A Movable Feast was published after Ernest’s death in 1961. 

My Rating: 3/5 – I liked Paris Wife by Paula McLain,  didn’t lose any hours of sleep to finish.  I actually put the book away and returned to it to finish a month later.

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Other Bloggers Reviews :

Books in the Burbs

Amused by Books

Book Bath

Compulsive Overreader 

Happy Reading!






  1. The Relentless Reader Avatar

    I read this too and enjoyed it. I've often wondered how Hemingway's life would have turned out if he and his first wife would have made it.

  2. Jen C Avatar

    I think he would have been a happier man – to me it seemed at the end of his life, he still loved Hadley.

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