Book review: Adultery

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 Permalink

I’ve read a few of Paulo Coelho’s previous novels. Some I’ve enjoyed and others, well….

There’s no doubt about the Brazilian’s mastery of the written word. His prose in general is (are?) beautiful. Eloquent. Almost poetic (understandably, given that he also writes poetry).

However when it comes to content (or the plot) I often struggle with Coelho’s work. And his latest novel, Adultery, is no different.

It was as if Coelho had something to say about love, loneliness, depression and life – so created a few characters through which to do it. Not an uncommon motivation for a novel perhaps; except that the end product (in my opinion obvs) wasn’t entirely successful.

The characters themselves, are kinda peripheral to his hypotheses and therefore redundant. Which is good because none are particularly likeable.

Thirty-something Linda is a journalist. She’s the mother of two and the wife of a successful and wealthy businessman* who adores her. She lives in Geneva; and for some reason the location is important to Coelho, as it’s oft-discussed. But (like the characters) also kinda redundant other than perhaps being a symbol of the sterile and outwardly perfect world in which Linda’s found herself.

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Having interviewed a writer who talked about the meaning of life Linda goes through her own existential crisis of sorts. A friend has been through something similar and recommends treatment for depression – she herself is feeling much better she advises. But Linda believes her angst to be far less mundane than simple depression and refuses to seek therapeutic or pharmacological assistance. Instead she goes in search of a cure.

(Un) fortunately she connects with a childhood sweetheart, now a politician. Although Jacob’s a self-confessed adulterer, Linda seduces him – thinking the liaison will add some excitement and purpose to her life. Whether he’s really interested or not wasn’t fully clear to me as both Jacob and Linda seemed intent on playing games in a somewhat spiteful and childish manner.

Linda’s devoted husband* knows something is wrong. He’s happy to give her the space she needs and he’ll be there for her, he tells her – which only exacerbates Linda’s guilt.

Coelho Linda eventually decides she’s lonely.

Written entirely in first person it was hard to separate Linda’s egocentric life and self-absorbed thoughts from that of Coelho’s. I had to stop and remind myself every so often that it was a novel. Not some extended analysis of human behaviour. In between ruminating about depression, relationships, loneliness and aloneness, readers are entertained with some relatively graphic sex scenes, biblical quotes and the occasional sermon.

I made it to the end of this book solely because I could appreciate Coelho’s brilliant writing. He completely throws the ‘show don’t tell’ rulebook out of the window as everything anyone says and does is narrated. Albeit beautifully.

The characters – as I said – are fairly unlikable. We get to know Linda pretty well but I didn’t find her believable and some of her actions weren’t those of a woman going through a mid-life crisis or even some sort of existential angst; they were practically sociopathic. (For example, going down on Jacob the politician in their first interview (in his office) and who she hasn’t seen in a couple of decades is – in her words – completely out of character. And as for her plans for Jacob’s wife?! And well… kinda ridiculous.)

There’s a scene near the end involving Linda’s husband, which gave me a flicker of hope for something more textured or layered but ultimately the book really doesn’t go anywhere. A dissertation (or ponderance) on the meaning of life in the guise of a novel. Albeit a very melancholy and well-written one.

I never read reviews of books until I’ve finished as I don’t want to shape my perception in any way and I saw this one in Goodreads (after) and I have to say – though it’s harsh – it’s ridiculously apt. And concise (unlike moi!).

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Of course, having said all of that I know there are many people out there who’ll appreciate Coelho’s writing and find the novel’s content gives them something to ponder.

Adultery by Paulo Coelho is available from 14 August 2014 via Random House UK (Cornerstone) and Penguin Books Australia.

* As I read the book a few weeks before writing the review I went back to novel to remind myself of the husband’s name but I flicked through over half the book before I gave up. Self-centred / self-absorbed Linda really only refers to him as ‘my husband’. Which I guess is done on purpose, meant to be reflective of her current headspace.

I received an advance copy for review purposes.

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