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Wednesday, March 4, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 11.0° F  A Few Clouds
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A Book A Week: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

In the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris, Ernest Hemingway talks in clichés as he tosses his lovely hair out of his eyes. In The Paris Wife Hemingway also speaks in clichés, but whereas in the movie you know it's all a joke, in the book it's supposed to be serious dialogue.

The Paris Wife and Midnight in Paris have a lot in common; both describe Hemingway and his circle in Paris in the 1920s through the eyes of outsiders. In the movie, the outsider is the time-traveling writer Gil. In the book, it's Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson.

Richardson was Hemingway's starter wife, and they divorced after seven years of marriage and one child. Hadley was frumpy and domestic, and she married Hemingway when she was almost 30 and he was only 21. They seem mismatched from the start, though you do get the sense that Hemingway, fresh from World War I, needed nurturing, and Hadley was a nurturer.

The book covers Ernest and Hadley's years together and ends when he leaves Hadley for wife #2 (with a short epilogue that tells us that Hadley later found happiness with a man who was far more reliable than Ernest). Even though this is a novel, it apparently sticks closely to the facts and uses characters' real names.

It's the atmosphere that makes this book fun to read, in the same way that Midnight in Paris was fun to watch even though the premise was just dumb. I pictured all the characters in the book as they looked in the movie. Thus in my head Gertrude Stein looked like Kathy Bates. Unfortunately there wasn't complete overlap, and the movie never shows Ernest with Hadley. Nevertheless I pictured her looking like Mariel Hemingway, whose real-life grandmother was Hadley Richardson.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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