If you are at all interested in Hemingway.
Or the Lost Generation.
Or the roaring 20's as viewed from abroad.
If you are into literary history.
Or if stories about the lives of people whom history has generally overlooked interest you.
THE PARIS WIFE is the story of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's first wife. I'd read a little bit about her in Hemingway's own "A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition", which I also loved. McLain starts the book in Oak Park, Illinois, when Hemingway was just a young buck, injured and dashing and damaged from the war, and Hadley was practically an old maid in those days, unmarried at 29. The story is fiction, of course, but McLain draws heavily from "A Moveable Feast", and also from "The Sun Also Rises", imagining that book as a highly autobiographical account of Hemingway's own life in Europe in the 20's, and I don't know but maybe it was.
It would have been easy for a writer to make old Ernest look like a self-absorbed, misogynistic monster, but that doesn't happen here. I imagine McLain is a fan of Hemingway, while at the same time realizing that the guy did cheat on his wife and went on to have three more. One of those three was journalist Martha Gellhorn, who was rather more than Hemmy bargained for. Famous during World War II, it was easy for old Hem to get a press pass to go cover stories overseas. He refused to help cub journalist Martha get one--"Are you a war correspondent or a wife in my bed?", he wrote her--and she subsequently found passage on a ship loaded with explosives. When she arrived in war-torn London, she promptly dumped him. Seriously, Hem. Get a girl a press pass, can't you?
I like that story.
And did you know that even though Hem was having an affair while finishing up "The Sun Also Rises", he gave Hadley all the royalties for that work--forever. The royalties from the 1957 movie version of the book also went to Hadley. These things are never black and white.
But the book isn't about any of that, it's about Hadley, and a young ambitious writer desperate to make history, and a generation of people tattered and bruised by war, trying their best to live the champagne and oysters life in Paris and Switzerland and Italy. F. Scott and Zelda make appearances, along with old Gertrude and Alice. Hadley makes a charming, engaging character as told by McLain--absolutely smitten with Hemingway, but gently and quietly unwilling to compromise herself. It was just delicious all the way through, and when we got to the end, I cried.
So there you have it.
I am Vesuvius and I'm a wife at war and a correspondent in bed.
PS--We are at mom-ology today.