Fictionalizing real people creates a problem for me. I find myself wondering when and where the author has taken liberties with the facts and this can ruin the flow of a book. It seems as if I have been running into this often recently and THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McClain only affirmed my bias.
THE PARIS WIFE is listed as a novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Hemingway was only twenty-one when he and Hadley met, far from the legendary author he would become. After a whirlwind courtship, they married and moved to Paris.
Neither of the young couple was prepared to go from middle America to the lifestyle of Paris in the 1920’s. They quickly became part of the hard living artistic world of Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and other rising stars who would do much to shape the arts for future generations. The “Lost Generation” got through life with music, booze, free love and a dedication to their art. Ernest fit into this life more easily than Hadley and eventually his affair with the woman that Hadley saw as her best friend, caused the destruction of their marriage.
The book allows us a glimpse of how Hemingway’s war experience influenced his writings and caused his love of bullfighting. We even go into his mind as he contemplates how he would commit suicide.
Paula McClain obviously did her homework before writing this novel. Not only did she have the personalities of Ernest and Hadley to capture, but the book is full of other artists of the time, all well known to the reader. To misrepresent any of them would have been a crime to his or her fans. I had no trouble with the facts; they have been covered by many biographers. The problem was with the dialogue. Granted these people were exceptionally talented when it came to word usage, but I kept asking myself, “Did he really say that?”
McClain is a good author and she did make Hemingway and his friends come alive. It is just that my cynical mind has a tendency to doubt novels about historical figures even when well done.