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Sep 21, 2011  |  Vote 0    0

Book review

St. Marys Journal Argus

Paris Wife

By Paula McLain

(Doubleday Canada)

In this trendy, jazz-age story set in 1920s Paris, Paula McLain captures the life of Ernest Hemingway through the eyes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Based on letters and journals written by both Hemingway and Hadley, this novel artfully captures a time and a place before Hemingway was a living legend.

McLain follows the couple as they meet, fall passionately in love, and move to Paris. Their married life appears decadent and romantic all at once, as they feast on macarons, drink champagne, and keep company with such notables as Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and even Pablo Picasso. It is a candid portrait of the “Lost Generation,” a term Hemingway coined himself to describe the ex-patriot artists living in Paris post-WWI.

McLain’s novel is on trend with a variety of other 1920s-era instalments, such as the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire and Baz Lurhmann’s new spin on The Great Gatsby, due in theatres November, 2012. In addition, McLain also dabbles in the increasing trend of historical fiction, using already established stories and characters — or, in this case, events and people — from which to build her story around. The narrative takes place during the time in which Hemingway produces In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises. He would later write A Moveable Feast about this time in his life, which would not be published until after his death.

Although loveable, Hadley’s character, for all her exciting friends and experiences, is rather dull in comparison to the rest of the Lost Generation, which allows the reader somewhat of a voyeuristic outsider’s view on these people. Hadley is free to comment on (and sometimes criticize) all the differences and qualities that make these “Flappers and Philosophers” truly unique.

While Hemingway’s work can often seem overly terse and descriptive to the point of tediousness, McLain’s book moves along nicely, and whether or not you are familiar with Hemingway and his writing, it makes for a delicious and enjoyable read. Hemingway’s character is infinitely more interesting than some of his own creations. Perhaps because we already know of his miserable, tragic end, and the impact he would have on literature, catching this glimpse of the early version of the man is fascinating.

Because the story is inspired by real life events, in some ways it is restrained by them. The author has no chance to re-write history for a happy ending, but instead uses this to frame the book, starting with a quick, yet educational introduction and moving quickly to the main story through flashback. Very much like the bullfights Hemingway was so drawn to, knowing the bull was to be killed one way or another, the reader can’t help but continue to turn the page and watch as the story unfolds. Even though anyone with access to Wikipedia can discover the end, it is in the telling that makes reading this story so irresistible.

One of the elements that stand out about McLain’s novel is the abundant population of up-and-coming artists, writers, poets and musicians that surround the main characters. While many of these individuals would go on to do great things, at the time they merely exist.

Though there can be no comparison to 1920s Paris, the potential for future success can occur in any time or place. Right here in St. Marys we are considerably fortunate to be privy to a variety of such individuals. Local singer and songwriter Emm Gryner has released Northern Gospel, the 10th album for this three-time Juno Award nominee, while local author Brian Busby has just released his newest book A Gentleman of Pleasure, a biography about John Glassgo. From the St. Marys Cultural Alliance to Perth Arts Connect, everywhere we look it seems there are individuals and groups sprouting up in the arts and making a place for themselves in the art world, St. Marys and further afield. Art, in its many forms, is everywhere; all we have to do is look around us. Though not Paris, we do seem to be a hub of artistic creativity on a small scale, and it is thrilling to think about the potential for any place or person to become the next big thing.

The Paris Wife promises a captivating view of a fascinating time and place. McLain delivers her readers a beautifully written point of view, offering perspective into the complicated life of Ernest Hemingway. Perfect for curling up with a cup of tea on a warm autumn night, this historical fiction will transport you back in time to an era of jazz and decadence.

Further reading suggestions:

A Moveable Feast

The Sun Also Rises

The Great Gatsby

The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner)

Portable Dorothy Parker

Flappers and Philosophers

Enjoy some Parisian Macarons with your tea. This easy-to-make treat is delicious and decadent all at once. It also happens to be gluten-free.

Parisian Macarons

1 1/4 cups plus 1 tsp confectioner’s sugar

1 cup (4 ounces) finely ground, sliced, blanched almonds

6 tbsp fresh egg whites (from about three extra-large eggs)

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Macaroon filling (can be jam, chocolate spread, preserves, or any sweet spread)

To make the macarons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and ground almonds. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to whip until stiff glossy peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the confectioner’s sugar mixture until completely incorporated.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch #4 round tip, and fill with batter. Pipe one-inch disks onto prepared baking sheets, leaving two inches between cookies. The batter will spread a little. Let stand at room temperature until dry, and a soft skin forms on the tops of the macaroons and the shiny surface turns dull (about 15 minutes).

Bake, with the door of the oven slightly ajar, until the surface of the macarons is completely dry, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack and let the macarons cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently peel off the parchment. Their tops are easily crushed, so take care when removing the macarons from the parchment. Use immediately or store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for up to one month.

To fill the macarons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling. Turn macarons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about one teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macarons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about one hour.

Variations: To make coffee-flavoured macarons, In step 1, add two drops brown food colouring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, blend 1/2 cup macaron filling with 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder dissolved in 1/2 teaspoon warm water for the filling.

To make cassis-flavoured macarons: In step 1, add two drops purple food colouring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, use 1/3 cup good-quality cassis jam for the filling.

To make pistachio-flavoured macarons: In step 1, add two drops green food colouring to the egg whites after they are whipped. In step 4, combine 1/2 cup macaron filling with one tablespoon pistachio paste for the filling.

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