The Paris Wife: A book set in Paris

This book was as charming as it was heartbreaking. After reading so much about Hemingway and reading most of his novels, many vaguely autobiographical, I thought I knew all the ins and outs of Hemingway. But knowing how the story would go for Hemingway and his “Paris wife” aka first wife, Hadley, didn’t prepare me for Paula McLain’s intimate telling of their warm courtship, charming married days, especially those spent reading by the fireplace in the Swiss Alps, and most of all, I certainly wasn’t ready for the emotionally charged break-up. Knowing how their marriage (the first of four for Hemingway) would screech to a grinding halt didn’t stop me from crying through the final chapter and epilogue.

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Hemingway’s Key West Bedroom Selfie (2012)

Our mother-daughter visit to Hemingway’s house in Key West is colored now by the fact that he shared it with Pauline. (Selfie from their Key West Bedroom included). Watching her enter the story as a dear friend and slowly unravel their marriage was surprisingly devastating. Hadley was simple and sympathetic. I perceived Pauline as a greater villain than she may have been because of how Hadley’s kind character lent itself to empathy. She was the wife Hemingway wished he had stayed with as the book jacket will tell you.

“… at the end of his life, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.”  (The Paris Wife, book jacket copy)

Hemingway's Key West House (2012)
Hemingway’s Key West House (2012)

Paula McLain really did her research. Some of the scenes read like déjà vu because I had already read them in one of Hemingway’s novels or bios. McLain’s MFA in poetry shines through the writing as well with such poetic prose. She writes amazingly poignant turns of phrase and she has an ability to describe an entire experience when she simply sets the scene. She writes with the same crisp “honest” writing of Hemingway but I noticed from time to time the narrative read a little like Fitzgerald. She had the Fitzgerald sparkle that embodied the Jazz Age in Paris. 

I’ve been meaning to read this novel for quite some time and the anticipation was warranted. It was a perfect novel. It made me angry, made me think, made me feel insane jealousy and easy contentment, and it made me re-evaluate my reading of A Moveable Feast and especially The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway is a different person to me now than he was when I started reading The Paris Wife. Meanwhile Hadley has become a person, where before there was only the flat caricature of a person. I can’t believe Hadley’s story took so long to get told (albeit there were predecessors to The Paris Wife). But who knew there was so much depth to Hadley’s story?

At the outset, I feel as empty as Hadley did at the end of their marriage. Yet somehow I feel empty and satisfied at the same time. It’s complicated, but it seems apropos since theirs was a complicated story.

As I finished, I had the urge to read it all over again… But I won’t just yet because Palo Alto is waiting on my bureau to be read next so I can cross #18 (a collection of short stories) off my list.

3/20

Samantha, Daughter

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand #5

This book is not exactly a light and airy read. Most of the characters have some serious issues.

(Scott is my favourite and he’s not even a major character).

The ending kinda sucks. It feels like it’s not finished. If  it were a tv show there would be a “To Be Continued”.

All in all it was a good book.

1/20

Winter Street: A book set at Christmas

(GoodReads, 2014).

January is not exactly the choice time for a Christmas novel (#5 on our list) but that was when I decided this would be my Christmas read. I essentially bookmarked this one until after Labour Day (though I think Mom read it pre-Labour Day, but she just is not into rules the way I am).

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand.

I read Hilderbrand’s Beautiful Day, ironically at Christmas (2013). I whizzed through Beautiful Day (and I’m normally a pretty slow reader) so I expect Winter Street will be another fun, fast read and spark my Christmas spirit.

I was disappointed. It was a fast read, but not necessarily a memorable one. The style bordered on Jackie Collins with the luxury and over-the-top lifestyle. The mother is the most famous woman in America (as a CBS news anchor) and the despondent dad in his failing inn just happens to have a property worth over four million in the heart of Nantucket.

The relationships and lives are dysfunctional, to quote Mom. But it’s a posh dysfunction and a little cliche. How does Kelley’s wife leave him for Santa and he’s still hooking up with “the most famous woman in America” before the book is over? Where is the sadness, coping, shock, mourning for the marriage that just fell apart? And why does Ava have zero interest in Scott until that magical moment when she suddenly doesn’t care about marrying Nathaniel and rejects his proposal to date a guy she could have been with all along? Feelings don’t just go away, nor do they instantly evolve.

It’s messy but it’s still neat. I would have liked a little more depth and a little more reality, but it wasn’t entirely bad.

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I did love the role the Metropolitan Museum of Art played in the novel. I had my first visit to MoMA on Friday, the same day I finished this novel so it was fun to read about the couple meeting on Christmas Eve on MoMA (and admission was by donation, suggested donation $5, instead of the current non-optional, totally mandatory, $25 admission fee). I wish our visit had been as relaxing as theirs was. It was super crowded on Friday, which is apparently normal for the day after Thanksgiving, but for these lucky folks on Christmas Eve, they were pretty much the only people there. Must be nice. I liked how they returned to MoMA for the proposal. That was nice. I liked the MoMA component and I guess the idillyic Christmas integration had merit too. It wasn’t a challenge or overly satisfying, but the Christmas decorations, carols, feasting, party, and Nantucket Christmas scenery created a nice Christmas atmosphere. I enjoyed the Christmas cheer created by Hilderbrand. It put me in a Christmas mood, which is probably the goal or at least a nice effect.

And with this, I have finished our 2015 Mother-Daughter Reading Challenge!

Enjoy your Christmas and get ready for the 2016 challenge, Mom!

Samantha, Daughter

20/20

Dark Places: A book that scares you

Somewhere in the wee morning hours between one and two A.M., I finished reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. About an hour after that my heart stopped pounding and my mind stopped racing and I finally got to sleep. My ideal bedtime is ten o’clock, so it was a strange night for me. This strange book was utterly un-put-down-able!

When I began reading it I wasn’t sure what criteria it would satisfy in our reading list. Dark Places is a New York Times bestseller (#13), a book set around Christmas, if not exactly on Christmas day or with a deliberate Christmas theme (#5), and the movie rights have been sold so it has some crossover with #10 as well. At the outset, it is truly #19, a book that scares you. Though it was over 300 pages it could have almost been a book you can read in one day (#6) because I cruised through nearly 200 pages yesterday alone. The only thing that curbed my reading was when Rob went away for the night because this was not something I wanted to read home alone. Like my rule to stop watching Criminal Minds after three in the afternoon if no one else is there, I also decided not to read Dark Places home alone while the dark places crept up around me. That was the only thing to deter my non-stop journey through this book.

There were four distinct stages to my reading of Dark Places:

Stage One – The Slow Burn

As I started the novel, I didn’t really like or care about the characters. It seemed moderately predictable. The writing was engaging and the realistic little details Flynn added kept me going but I didn’t really care in those first few chapters. This seems to be a pattern in Flynn’s plots though. She starts slow and crescendos to the non-stop twists and turns that make you unable to put her books down.

Stage Two – Unraveling

As the plot began unraveling and the mystery opening up like a blooming flower, I was entranced in the disturbingly delightful way Flynn always sucks me into her novels.

Stage Three – Just Be Over

There was a point somewhere around page 170 when I just wanted it to be over. I was too anxious about the whole story and I needed to know what happened on January 2nd, 1985 at that farmhouse in Kansas. I was actually panicking as I read it. My palms were sweating, my stomach was churning, I went through more stress reading this book than I ever do in my day-to-day life.

Stage Four – Sprint

There were probably seventy pages left when I began sprinting through the remainder of the book like it was the final ten pages. If this book were a marathon I would have started sprinting to the finish line far too early and passed out before I got there.

November 2014-Jan 2015 917I can’t think of anyone to compare Flynn to but herself. I think in comparison to her other novels this was her best. I never thought she could write something better than Gone Girl but Dark Places may be the best. (I’m too close to the situation to decide definitively yet).

There were little rivers of consistency reoccurring in her otherwise completely original plots: the vomit mantra of “getting it all up” and “getting all that bad stuff out” (Sharp Objects, Dark Places), the posters of missing people (Sharp Objects, Dark Places, Gone Girl), the love of bourbon (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl), and the “reformed” man vowing to commit the rest of his life to making it up to the female protagonist, or antagonist as it were (Dark Places, Gone Girl). I might not have noticed the consistencies if I hadn’t completed the Gillian Flynn hat trick in quick succession.

Thanks for the Christmas gift, Mom. No box set of books has brought me more excitement.

2/20

Samantha, Daughter

Sharp Objects: The first book of a favourite author

I don’t know if Gillian Flynn is my favourite author but she’s probably my favourite right now. Since I got all her books for Christmas (thanks, Mom!) I went right from Gone Girl to Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects. The novel doesn’t really read like it’s written by a woman even though the protagonist, Camille Preaker, is female. Like the main characters in Gone Girl, the protagonist in Sharp Objects is damaged (along with pretty much every other character).

Sharp ObjectsCamille is a semi-reformed cutter. She lives in a crappy studio apartment in Chicago. Coming home to her Missouri hometown highlights how messed up her life has been. Camille is a crime journalist covering a case in her hometown of Wind Gap. It reads like a simple, been-there-done-that plot, especially when the handsome detective from Kansas City rolls in to help out on the case. But with Flynn, it’s never as simple as it seems.

The narrative is written intimately in a way that draw you in. It isn’t quite as engaging as Gone Girl and the twists didn’t shock me as much, but it was a good debut novel.

Samantha, Daughter

1/20 Books Read

The Book Challenge

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(Etsy, 2015)
  1. A book my mom (or daughter) loves
  2. The first book of a favourite author
  3. A book you always wanted to read but never got around to reading
  4. A funny book
  5. A book set at Christmas
  6. A book you can read in one day
  7. A Pulitzer-Prize or Giller Prize winning novel
  8. A book that got bad reviews
  9. A book set in Paris
  10. A book that became a movie
  11. A book about faith
  12. A book by an author you never read before
  13. A New York Times bestseller
  14. A book you own but have never read
  15. A book you started but never finished
  16. A book set in a country you never visited but would like to go
  17. A book that was banned
  18. A collection of short stories
  19. A book that scares you
  20. A book about a mother and daughter