The Paris Wife

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A three-star average book for me. Interesting enough, and well-researched and written, but not a style of writing (leaning toward romancy chick-lit) that I seek out nor a time and place that I am interested in. I read this because it fit my “wife” titles theme, and the bookclub is reading Hemingway next – an author I have never read. If you enjoy Paris, the 1920s, and biographical fiction this would be a lovely book for you. My overall impression of this doomed marriage is that Hadley was woefully out of her element. She would have made the perfect 1950s housewife with kids, but Hemingway was a man who enjoyed women, drinking, action (bull-fighting), and the bohemian lifestyle of the rich and famous expats of 1920s Paris.

Book description:
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

Circling the Sun

Circling the SunCircling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This took me a long time to finish, because it kept getting interrupted by other things with time limits that I had to read. I learned a lot about Beryl Markham’s life prior to her flight across the Atlantic Ocean, but then I knew very little to begin with. Anything to do with aviation was mostly an afterthought. The epilogue felt tacked on and wasn’t necessary at all. The last chapter had such a great ending line – it really should have ended there. It’s a good story – as fiction – but the over-romanticization (is that a word?) of her writing makes me doubt that her Beryl is true to life. It does make me want to learn more, and perhaps read Beryl’s own book.

Otherwise, I found myself frustrated by shallow characters. At times Beryl seemed impossibly naïve and other times she was given a wisdom and grace that was beyond her years and experience. All of the men seemed to be out to take advantage of her, and perhaps that was true. Certainly she made some poor life choices. On the other hand, here was a woman who refused to give up, who refused to be defined by the conventions of her society. In that regard, she seemed more like the native Africans that she grew up with, and it surely had a huge impact on her personality. I am not a fan of colonialism, and while many of the English here seem dissolute and selfish, she also over-romanticizes the native culture. So enjoy this book for its poetic writing and if you like romances you’ll probably like this a lot, although the actual romance here doesn’t have a happy ending. But the romance does serve as the catalyst for Beryl’s future life as an aviator. A good story. I’m just not sure it is a “true” one.

Book description: Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa. Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships. Ultimately, it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.