On 3 March, Virago publishes The Paris Wife, a spellbinding novel based on the true story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson, their life together in Jazz Age Paris, and the agonizing break-up of their relationship in 1926. It is an extraordinary love story, told from the point of view of Hadley, an extraordinary woman. Drawing on a vast array of contemporary sources, Paula McLain has created a voice for Hadley that captivates the reader from the first page.
Hadley was twenty-eight when she met the twenty-year-old aspiring writer. She was shy and quiet and had led a sheltered life; Hemingway was by far the more worldly and experienced of the pair. But he saw in her something that he knew he needed – a certain calmness, a goodness, a lack of guile; and she saw in him, beyond the swagger, a vulnerability and a sweetness people often failed to recognize.
After a whirlwind courtship, Hadley and Hemingway were married, and they moved to Paris, where it was possible to live cheaply among other artistic American expatriates – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein – and for Hemingway to pursue his ambition of becoming a writer. The Paris Wife vividly imagines the feverish, hedonistic flavour of the times; the slaughter of the Great War was a very recent memory, and gaiety was what these expats – later on christened the Lost Generation – were pursuing at any price. Thinking about the past was unbearable; planning for the future was pointless; what mattered was the here and now.
It was a time of great change, especially for women, who were shortening their skirts, bobbing their hair and going out into the world on their own terms. In Paris, the Hemingways found themselves surrounded with this new species of woman, and to Hadley, who was too oblivious to the diktats of fashion even to consider following them, they seemed particularly alien. She had her beloved husband and, in 1923, a beloved son; she believed that she and Ernest were building something real, something solid and permanent, defying the flashy, evanescent spirit of the age.
But Hadley was wrong. It is not giving anything away to say that Hadley and Hemingway’s love story ended catastrophically. This is from the opening chapter of The Paris Wife:
'This isn’t a detective story – not hardly. I don’t want to say, Keep watch for the girl who will come along and ruin everything, but she’s coming anyway, set on her course in a gorgeous chipmunk coat and fine shoes, her sleek brown hair bobbed so close to her well-made head she’ll seem like a pretty otter in my kitchen. Her easy smile. Her fast smart talk – while in the bedroom, scruffy and unshaven and laid flat out on the bed like a despot king, Ernest will read his book and care nothing for her. Not at first.’
(An aside: however terrible the smash-up of Hadley’s marriage was for her when it happened, she did recover, and it seems that in the long run, she had a happier life than her faithless husband. In A Moveable Feast, his memoir of that magical and heartbreaking sojourn in Paris, Hemingway writes longingly of his great love for Hadley, declaring: ‘I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her.’)
Everyone at Virago has fallen in love with The Paris Wife and with Paula McLain’s version of Hadley, whose voice is so direct, so uncontrived and so apparently authentic that as a reader you are there – drinking Pernod at the Café Flore, soothing a baby in a cold-water Paris apartment next door to a sawmill, admiring the blossom in the Luxembourg Gardens – urging Hadley on, hoping against all hope that this time, this time, Ernest will realize what he is throwing away.
Here are some of my colleagues’ responses:
‘I adored this novel… the thing that struck me most and will remain with me was the romance. Unsentimental, uncliched and never once struck a bum note. How bloody refreshing!’
Sophie McIvor, Press Officer
‘Hadley’s warm, measured voice draws you in from the very first page, and you root for her completely in the face of the inevitable devastating breakdown of the relationship. We loved it, and you will too.’
Rowan Cope, Commissioning Editor
‘The Paris Wife is that rare thing: a novel that is both intellectually enriching and deeply entertaining. Fascinating historical detail, relentless drama, heartbreaking romance, and a cast of characters that will live with the reader forever – what more could one want?’
Charlie King, Marketing Director
‘The Paris Wife provided my favourite reading experience of 2010. It’s written with such a tremendous sense of energy, fun and romance that I did not want to put it down. I’d recommend this to anyone who fancies being whisked away to the glamorous and cool Paris of the 1920s. In fact I’d recommend this book to any woman. Pure pleasure.’
Rebecca Saunders, Senior Editor Sphere Fiction
‘The Paris Wife is one of those books that genuinely lives up to the hype. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.‘
Megan Schaffer, Marketing Assistant
‘I totally fell in love with The Paris Wife. It’s an incredibly beautiful love story and set in such an entertaining period. Reading from Hadley’s point of view as the marriage disintegrates is just heartbreaking.’
Rachael Hum, European Sales Manager
‘A brilliant book, not just about the nature of love and loss, but an evocation of time and place that readers will be irresistibly drawn to.’
Richard Beswick, Managing Director, Little, Brown
‘I adored everything about this book. I felt as if I was there, in the shabby flat, meeting all the amazing characters who peopled the book. I have been telling all and sundry about it and really hope it becomes a huge bestseller!’
Gill Midgley, Sales Representatitve
‘Oh man, I loved this book and want to read it again already. ‘
Abby Marshall, Production Controller
‘I thought it was fitting that Hemingway’s wife should be so articulate and intelligent in her own right, an intellectual match for her domineering husband.’
Joanna Kramer, Desk Editor
‘Oh my gosh, don’t get me started! I fell in love with Hem completely and I think that is one of the novel’s greatest strengths – making such a compassionate character out of such a complete cad!’
Carleen Peters, Marketing Executive
‘Who cannot fall for Paris in the 20s… she takes us there and it's just wonderful. I also hugely admire the way she tells about a love affair that you know is going to end in tears right from the start but even still, you cannot stop reading (and hoping it will end otherwise). ’
Lennie Goodings, Publisher of Virago Press
‘Paula McLain is such an incredible writer that halfway through the book I started not to care that the novel's subject was the inimitable Ernest Hemingway and his doomed star-studded married life, and found myself marvelling instead at a bittersweet love story perfectly told.‘
Emily Rowland, Orbit & Digital Marketing Manager
‘I love this book so much I am bursting! It ticks every single box on what a book should be for me. It’s a great compelling love story. The characterisations are brilliantly drawn and you can see, smell, taste and hear Paris and Pamplona.’
Andy Hine, Foreign Rights Director
‘I can’t remember a book I’ve read that has drawn me in as completely as The Paris Wife, or a character I’ve rooted for as much as Hadley, despite knowing how things end between her and Ernest. Romantic (in the true, non-cliched sense), evocative and utterly believeable – it’s very special indeed.’
Stephen Dumughn, Marketing Manager, Virago
We are running a competition here to win a beautiful proof of The Paris Wife , so be sure to enter.
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