Everyone has seen a film that has been “based on a true story”.  Usually it’s some completely outrageous story, which has had a few too many dramatic touches added to it, and invariably ends with the hero saving the lives of at least 15 different people in an impossible way.

And while this is all well and good, more often than not we are shown a story through rose-tinted glasses, and we don’t actually get to find out what really happened.  Titanic anyone?  Because who has not come across at least one idiot who truly believes that Jack and Rose are real people.

Thankfully, this does not occur in The Paris Wife, a wonderful re-enactment of the 1920s by author Paula McLain.  Narrated by Hadley Richardson, the first (of four) wife of Ernest Hemingway, we follow their 7 year marriage, which largely occurs in Paris.

Here’s the thing, Ernest Hemingway, one of the most influential and well-known authors of the 20th century, is kinda painted as the bad guy.  Don’t get me wrong, you won’t walk away from this book thinking he’s a terrible writer, as it doesn’t detract from his work at all, but you might leave with a sense that he’s well…a bit of a douche.

What is really cool about this book is that while it is fiction, Paula McLain largely based it on true facts that she found through Hadley’s interviews, Ernest’s manuscripts and their letters between each other.  So, for a change, we have the ability to almost read about the life of a famous person…without the bullshit that makes them look wonderful throughout.

Another thing that’s pretty amazing in this book are the continual references to people, that to us, almost a century later, are iconic and almost legendary.  Ezra Pound.  James Joyce.  Gertrude Stein.  And a personal favourite moment in the book; when Ernest and Hadley are introduced to F. Scott Fitzgerald and he mentions that he’s just had his latest book published, The Great Gatsby…and neither of them have even heard of it.

Aside from the famous figures that pepper this novel, it is essentially a story about love, and how loyal a person will be.  Hadley meets Ernest after she leaves her hometown St Louis, and despite the fact that she is eight years his senior, they begin a whirlwind affair, move to Paris and eventually have a child, Bumby, together.

In particular, we read about how Hadley stays by Ernest’s side as his career starts to take off, and how she deals with his personality changes as he becomes more well-known.  And essentially, almost until the very end, she is steadfast by his side.

Plus, even if you’re not into romance, reading almost first-hand how Ernest Hemingway came up with his stories is pretty incredible.

I found this book slightly hard to get into, but the writing is easy to read, clear, but also quite sophisicated.  Most importantly, what I loved about this book was the true honesty and goodness about the protagonist, Hadley, whose story you have to finish, even as her world starts to fall around her.

Have you read this book?  Are you a fan of Ernest Hemingway?  Let me know in the comments!

the paris wife

The Paris Wife-(image taken from http://www.lachatnoir.fires.wordpress.com)