Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was intrigued by this book after so many of my bookish friends were raving about it. I am also a bit fascinated by Hemingway and was interested in learning more about him. I have read a couple of Hemingway's books (and A Farewell to Arms is one of my all time favorite novels) but I didn't really know a lot about him beyond how he died, the names of his novels & that he'd won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

What a nice surprise this book was - it is a really well told story about a fascinating time and some really interesting people. More than anything, this book really gave me incentive to do some research about Hemingway, his life, his novels, his colleagues and well, his wives. Fascinating! I kept finding myself switching over to the web on my Nook Tablet as I was reading to research some detail or person mentioned in the novel. If nothing else, the reading experience was very informative to me. But, its also just a good story. I don't think its a 5 star book ... there was a slowness in the book that was annoying to me at times which brought it down to a 4. But, it's a strong 4 and definitely worth reading!

This novel brought Paris of the 1920's come alive and I felt like I was sitting right there, observing the goings on of the Hemingway's and their friends. In many ways, this was a heartbreaking novel because it tells the story of how a relationship changes over time and how experiences and other people can come into your life & change everything in ways that you could never have imagined. There were times that I was very frustrated with Hadley & the decisions that she made and didn't make but, in the end, I could understand her motivations and, although I didn't agree with them, could see why she struggled with certain things.

I found this novel to portray a very balanced view of marriage and love. It showed the nuances of relationships in a multifaceted way that really spoke to me. There was a balance that McLain found in telling the story of these two people falling in love and what happens to them during their marriage. I think that balance gave the entire story its depth and made it feel very raw and real.

The only negative thing that I have to say about this novel is its pacing. There were entire passages and sections of the novel that felt very stiff and tedious - as if the author were so focused on getting the 'history' right that the storytelling was lost for a moment. McLain always got back to the storytelling but those small sections of flatness made the overall novel flow much less impactful than it could have been. Despite these forays into less than great storytelling, McLain does a fantastic job of making this time and these people come alive.

It can definitely be disconcerting to read about a marriage falling apart but I think that McLain's examination of the Hemingway marriage is one of the most nuanced and textured portrayals of marriage that I've read in awhile. It's really one of the things that I liked most about the book - the way that it made me think about marriage, love, friendship and the journey that we all take in our lives.

I definitely recommend this book - its a good read, very educational and compelling!

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