Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Paris Without End. The True Story of Hemingway's First Wife by Gioia Diliberto

I read and enjoyed The Paris Wife by Paula McLain over the summer. It was such a poignant story and so full of famous names and gorgeous places that the whole thing stuck with me. I took notice of a biography of Hadley Hemingway called Paris Without End - The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife by Gioia Diliberto and decided I wanted to read it, too.

This is a meticulously researched, well-written book. Using a great deal of information taken from letters, interviews, and Hemingway’s personal papers, Diliberto presents a rich account of Hadley and Ernest’s lives. We see their first meeting, we watch their courtship, marriage, and eventual divorce and its aftermath. In fact, it covers all the same ground as the novel but in greater detail and from a different perspective. (The biography was written first and if I remember right was one of McLain's references.)

Paris Without End is a splendid biography. While reading it, I was struck (looking back) by how closely the novel had followed the story of Hadley’s life. In some ways, I felt the books were so similar I didn’t need to have read both. The biography does have some more detailed information, but some of the interpretation began to get a bit repetitive. And while the story is compelling, it wasn’t as emotionally gripping for me as the novel. Nevertheless, Hadley’s personality is well demonstrated. As far as the famous husband– while his faults are evident, the author balances this with Hadley’s generous and loving explanations for his behavior. She forgives him so I suppose I have to. He’s not a likeable character, but he had his own demons.

If you’re interested in Hemingway’s first wife and his Paris years, I can recommend both books. If you prefer nonfiction, try Paris Without End. If you’d rather read a novel, pick up a copy of The Paris Wife.


  1. I like the sound of this book but I don't like Hemingway's work. Do you think I would still enjoy it?

  2. It's hard to say, since he's such a big part of the story and there is a lot of focus on his ambition. Their lives revolved around developing his career. Still, the book is more about Hadley's life than an exploration of Hemingway's work. It's interesting to see her brought out of his shadow, to see how important she was and how strong was, even though she's been cast in the "wronged wife" role or starter wife, or however she'd been seen in the past. If you didn't like Hemingway to start, you'll like him even less after this. But I came out with a great appreciation for Hadley.