Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Club: February

This month’s novel was the Paris Wife by Paula McClain, which follows Hadley Richardson’s marriage to Ernest Hemingway and their short life together. Swept up in his charms and charisma, Hadley falls head over heels for the writer a few years her junior. Their romance takes them away to Paris where they get swept up in the artist contingent growing in the Roaring 20s. Notable writers make appearances in the tale of Hemingway’s first marriage.

Of all the fashions of the time, polygamy was popular and widely accepted as fact for relationships of the time. Hemingway’s desire to have a more open marriage is the straw that breaks his marriage to Hadley, and eventually would break other relationships of his. The novel portrays the period well, allowing the reader to wish only to transport themselves far away to a time of luxury and relaxation.

While Hemingway openly has problems and admits them, it is his narcissism that ruins his marriage to Hadley. He needs constant reassurance and when he becomes too comfortable with Hadley, he seeks out comfort in other women. One part that irritated me was one of Hemingway’s nicknames for Hadley: cat. While at times it is cute, it also is dehumanizing. Allowing Hemingway to rationalize his behavior to himself. He blames the unrest in his marriage on Hadley’s unwillingness to be polygamous, when in reality it is his infidelity that causes the break.

It’s hard not to view Hemingway in a different light after seeing how he treats women. I knew previously that he was an alcoholic. But I had never realized how destructive he was in his relationships. He made a habit of burning bridges with people who helped him along the way to being famous. Other women in book club knew more about his life and his relationships with his family. Apparently he was quite an ass, which based on how he treated Hadley I can easily believe.

Some quotes that I found interesting:

“Books could be an incredible adventure. I stayed under my blankets and barely moved, and no one would have guessed how my mind raced and my heart soared with stories.” -pg. 26

“Are you always this wise, Ruth?” “Only when it comes to other people’s lives.” -pg. 49

“Men hear what they like and invent the rest.” -pg. 218

“Why? Are you afraid I’m becoming a bitch? If I am, we know who’s to blame.” -pg. 261

The novel is a fantastic picture of Paris, and Europe, in one of the most glamorous decades in history, and all the fashions of the period. Your view of Hemingway could be tainted, but I suppose certain genius comes with some nasty baggage. In the end, is the genius worth it if you destroy people you love to get there?

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