Book 44, a book set in a place you would like to visit: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Not only is this novel set in a physical location I want to visit, it’s also set during a time I would love to visit (if only I could meet a Time Lord!). The Paris Wife documents the early years of marriage between Ernest Hemingway (when he was becoming Hemingway) and his first wife, Hadley. Hands down, the best part of this novel isn’t the who or the what, but the where.
Close your eyes, and travel with me: American Midwest, 1920’s. Jazz is everywhere, and morality is in flux. Prohibition is in full force, but you’d hardly guess the way people carry on. Or in Pamplona, Spain, watching the running of the bulls; witness a horrific yet oddly sensual goring. Perhaps skiing on gorgeous Austrian slopes, sun bathing on private beaches, and vacationing at beautiful Italian villas are more your cup of tea? Each gorgeous backdrop feels almost like a third main character with its own narrative course, and none so much as Paris. Hemingway’s Paris is bursting with the burgeoning intellectual movement of the 1920’s. Rife with what would become some of the most famous names in American literature (Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, Sherwood Anderson, Dos Passos, and more), McLain weaves a beautiful tapestry of sights, sounds, tastes, and wisps of juicy conversations between some of the greatest minds in our collective history. You almost feel like you’re having cocktails with Zelda Fitzgerald or attending fabulously cozy dinner parties at Gertrude Stein’s. Suddenly, you can see yourself sitting across the table from Hem, enjoying a nice Café a lait and discussing his writing methods. The wondrous settings and rich descriptions are by far the most well done aspects of this novel. McLain manages to make you feel almost like you can reach out and hold it all in your hands.
The plot delves into the ups and downs between Ernest and Hadley during their years of tenuous marriage. It also highlights the struggle for Hemingway to find his voice as a writer and thinker of his generation, and the process required to make a name for himself. You follow Hadley and Hem, through her narrative voice, from their first meeting up through the end of their turbulent relationship. Based on the true story of one of the greatest literary couples, McLain draws upon Hadley and Hem’s carefully documented history and adds Hadley’s voice to the mix, creating a more robust, intriguing perspective on this great love story.