Reviews of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The Paris Wife is based upon the true story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley.  They meet in the 1920s in Chicago and immediately form a strong bond.  After a whirlwind courtship they go to Paris where Ernest believes his writing career will flourish.

This is where the trouble begins as their glamourous life becomes more than a little complicated.

The story is narrated in the first person by Hadley which gives it a beautiful immediacy and poignancy.   The characters are well developed, and the descriptions of Paris made my yearn to visit the city I love so much.

This is a beautifully written love story about the devastation of betrayal and the importance of loyalty.  It is about friendship, love and jealousy and what happens when your boundaries are blown apart.    The writing is elegant and the prose hypnotic.  It transported me to a different world, and I found it fully engaging.   I recommend this book highly.  In one word it is stunning.

photo of The Paris Wife and Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I was completely blown away by this author’s book – ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ when I read it about five years ago.  So, I was eager to read Exit West.   Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed Exit West, it didn’t captivate me as ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ had, but that’s not to say it’s not a great read.

Hamid has the gift of writing beautifully stark prose that captures a moment in time in technicolour.

Written in the third person, Exit West tells the story of Saeed and Nadia who both live in an unnamed city where war has broken out.  They meet at an evening class. Saeed is the son of a university professor and Nadia lives alone and wears a full black robe, despite it not being compulsory in their society.  She says it is a form of protection, so we understand women are not treated with anything close to the respect they deserve by the patriarchy. As Saeed and Nadia’s relationship develops, the fighting escalates, and they know they must escape or risk death.

Now, I must confess this is the bit of the story I couldn’t quite get my head around – they escape through these ‘doors’ and do not know where they will find themselves.  Of course, I understand it is a metaphor and the author employs the use of magical realism, but it didn’t quite work for me, and it did take away from the story somewhat.   The first place they find themselves in is Mykonos in Greece.  They stay there for a while before then going to London and then to Marin in San Francisco.

The author’s gift lies in portraying what life is like for refugees and the awful realities for those who are fleeing war torn countries.

What I loved most about this novel were the descriptions.  This one struck me as particularly prescient given the times we are currently in, when Saeed contemplates his grief:

‘and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us……and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow……Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world.’

This is another poignant love story, thought-provoking and heart-breaking. Highly recommend.