November 22, 2014

November - The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain came highly recommended as a book club selection but when Cheryl started reading it she was less than impressed with it as a book and we began to wonder if it was a good choice for us. Still, she said there would be enough of interest for us to read it so we stuck with it as our choice for November. Were we ever glad we did! I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say that we would add our recommendation of The Paris Wife as a wonderful book club selection. This is particularly true if you have members who have read works by Hemingway (A Moveable Feast especially) or know something of his history. Linda was very familiar with Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gelhorn, which allowed us to compare his wives.

Although all of us have been working moms, many of us career women, none of us had a problem with Hadley Richardson devoting her time with Ernest Hemingway being his support system. We felt that it may have been a decision she made for a number of reasons: she felt so strongly about his potential and skill and she had watched her own parents' marriage suffer because of her mother's feelings about marriage being a burden. We found Hadley to be amazingly self-aware - she knew she wasn't modern in a city that was all about being modern, but she never tried to be something she wasn't.

The question was raised, was Hemingway incredibly egotistical or incredibly insecure? In this book, and throughout his life, he seemed more than willing to abandon people who cared about him when they were no longer willing to build him up in the way he needed to be. When Pauline came along and fawned over him, he threw away the person of whom he later said, "I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her." Lisa had just recently read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's last book, and was struck by how much he clearly still cared about Richardson and squarely took the blame for the demise of their marriage. On that front, we also talked about how the marriage seemed to have taken a turn when Hadley lost a valise filled with all of Ernest's work. Although it was agreed that this was an accident, we also agreed that it showed that Hadley may not have understood the value of Ernest's work despite that being the sole purpose of their lives.

We were all struck by how, even while protesting that they were so desperately poor, the Hemingways always seemed to have the funds to travel, to dine and drink out, and to have someone come in to cook meals and care for their son. None of us could fathom living as they did regularly only to be able to spend months away from home.

Unrelated to the story itself, we were all confused by the cover of this book. Why a photo of a woman wearing clothes from decades after the time this book takes place? Did the publisher not feel that a more appropriate cover wouldn't aid the the sales of the book?

Book clubs - read this book, use it as a tool to research the Hemingways and the time period, and read McClain's interviews about the book. We guarantee you'll have a great discussion.