Hadley Richardson was the first of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives and this is her fictional memoir. It starts in Chicago, where the naïve Hadley meets and falls in love with Hemingway and ends with Hadley’s account of the last conversation she had with Hemingway before he committed suicide in 1961. The focus of the novel is on Hadley and Hemingway’s life in Paris in the 1920s as Hemingway pursued his dream of becoming a successful writer, and on the eventual breakdown of their relationship.
McLain appears to have done her research well. She lists her resources in an author’s note and, as far as I can tell from other things I've read, the novel is historically accurate. The prose is okay, although the dialogue is generally rather flat and there is some heavy-handed foreshadowing. What doesn’t work at all, in my opinion, are the occasional chapters told from Hemingway’s point of view. These chapters are in the third person, which is just as well, because McLain would not have been able to capture Hemingway’s voice. In any event, given that this is supposed to be Hadley’s story, the chapters add little to the narrative.
In the past, I’ve tended to avoid novels which feature historical figures as characters. This is because I’d rather read a biography based on primary sources than a novelist’s re-interpretation of biographical material. Reading Hilary Mantel’s novels about Thomas Cromwell ([b:Wolf Hall|6101138|Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)|Hilary Mantel|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1336576165s/6101138.jpg|6278354] and [b:Bring Up the Bodies|13507212|Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)|Hilary Mantel|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1330649655s/13507212.jpg|14512257]) and the French Revolution ([b:A Place of Greater Safety|101921|A Place of Greater Safety|Hilary Mantel|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1363435037s/101921.jpg|1168385]) made me re-think that position, at least in relation to historical figures from the more distant past. However this novel tends to reinforce it and I suspect that I would find a biography of Hadley Hemingway more interesting than this work. That said, I found it an engaging read in spite of its weaknesses and I finished it in a couple of sittings. It was just the book for me to read right now, immersed as I have been in reading about expatriate writers in 1920s Paris. It was also a very welcome gift from my lovely friend Jemidar.