I love Ernest Hemingway. His ability to write such evocative stories with the bare minimum of words amazes me. His dialogue is crisp, witty and a lot of fun to read. So when I saw The Paris Wife, a book that depicts the relationship between Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, I was both intrigued and wary.
I know it’s not fair to compare McLain’s writing to Hemingway’s, especially since her narrator isn’t Ernest himself, but Hadley, who would understandably have a very different speaking voice. Still, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed at the dialogue. Ernest’s lines show none of the personality that shines through in his novels. Rather, it felt like reading a fairly forgettable romance novel. Take for example the following exchange:
“Do you want some wine?” He reached into his nest and pulled out a corked bottle and a teacup.
“What else have you got hidden in there?”
“Come in and find out.” His voice was light and teasing.
It’s not completely stilted in itself, but after reading so many similar conversations in the book, it finally just felt too artificial to make me care about their relationship.
The good news is that I found myself liking the story more after Ernest and Hadley’s relationship sours. When the story focuses in tight to Hadley and Ernest is in the background, the scenes seemed to flow more naturally. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t separate Ernest Hemingway the character from Ernest Hemingway the historical figure, whereas with Ernest out of the picture, I could feel like I was reading about a completely fictional woman with marriage problems and therefore allowed myself to be drawn in more.