Synopses & Reviews
Coelho / ADULTERY
Every morning, when I open my eyes to the so-called “new day,” I feel like closing them again, staying in bed, and not getting up. But I can’t do that.
I have a wonderful husband who is not only madly in love with me, but also the owner of a large investment fund. Every year—much to his distaste—he appears in Bilan magazine’s list of the three hundred richest people in Switzerland.
I have two children who are (as my friends say) my “reason for living.” I get up early to make their breakfast and take them on the five-minute walk to school, where they spend all day, allowing me to work and fill my time. After school, a Filipino nanny looks after them until my husband and I get home.
I enjoy my work. I’m a highly regarded journalist at a respectable newspaper that can be found in almost all the news kiosks in Geneva, where we live.
Once a year, I go on holiday with the whole family, usually to some far-flung paradise with marvelous beaches, where we stay in exotic cities inhabited by very poor people who make us feel richer, more privileged, and more grateful for the blessings life has bestowed upon us.
Ah, but I haven’t introduced myself. Pleased to meet you. My name’s Linda. I’m in my thirties, five-foot-eight, 150 pounds, and I wear the best clothes that money can buy (thanks to my husband’s limitless generosity). I arouse desire in men and envy in other women.
And yet, every morning, when I open my eyes to this ideal life that everyone dreams of having but few achieve, I know the day will be a disaster. Until the beginning of this year, I didn’t question anything. I simply got on with my life, although, now and then, I did feel guilty about having more than I deserved. One day, though, while I was making everyone breakfast (it was spring, I remember, and the flowers were just beginning to open in the garden), I asked myself: “Is this it?”
I shouldn’t have asked that question. It was all the fault of a writer I’d interviewed the previous day who, at one point, said:
“I haven’t the slightest interest in being happy. I prefer to live life passionately, which is dangerous because you never know what might happen next.”
At the time, I thought: “Poor man. He’s never satisfied. He’ll die sad and embittered.”
The following day, I realized that I never take any risks at all.
I know what lies ahead of me: another day exactly like the previous one. And passion? Well, I love my husband, which means that I’ve no cause to get depressed over living with someone purely for the sake of his money, the children, or to keep up appearances.
I live in the safest country in the world, I have no problems to speak of, and I’m a good wife and mother. I was brought up as a strict Protestant and intend to pass that education on to my children. I never take a false step because I know how easy it is to ruin everything. I do what I have to do efficiently and put as little of myself into it as possible. When I was younger, I experienced the pain of unrequited love, just like any other normal person.
Since I married, though, time has stopped.
Until, that is, I came across that horrible writer and his answer to my question. I mean, what’s wrong with routine and boredom?
To be honest, nothing at all. It’s just . . . it’s just the secret fear that everything could change from one moment to the next, catching me completely unawares.
From the moment I had that ominous thought that bright, beautiful morning, I began to feel afraid. Would I be capable of facing the world alone if my husband died? “Yes,” I told myself, because the money he left behind would be enough to support several generations. And if I died, who would look after my children? My beloved husband. But he would surely remarry, because he’s rich, charming, and intelligent. Would my children be in good hands?
The first thing I did was try to answer all my questions. And the more questions I answered, the more questions appeared. Will he take a mistress when I get old? We don’t make love as often as we used to—does he already have someone else? Does he think I’ve found someone else because I haven’t shown much interest in sex for the last three years?
We never have jealous spats, and I used to think that was great, but after that spring morning, I began to suspect that perhaps our lack of jealousy meant a complete lack of love on both sides.
I did my best not to think about the matter anymore.
For a whole week, whenever I left work, I would go and buy something in one of the expensive shops on Rue du Rhône. There was nothing I really wanted, but at least I felt that I was—how should I say this?—changing something, discovering something I didn’t even know I needed, like some new domestic appliance, although it has to be said, novelties in the world of domestic appliances are few and far between. I avoided toy shops, because I didn’t want to spoil my children by giving them a present every day. I didn’t go into any men’s shops, either, just in case my husband might grow suspicious of my sudden extreme generosity.
When I got home and entered the enchanted realm of my domestic world, everything would seem marvelous for a few hours, until everyone went to bed. Then, slowly, the nightmare would begin.
I think that passion is strictly for the young. Presumably, its absence is normal at my age, but that isn’t what terrifies me.
Today I am a woman torn between the terror that everything might change and the equal terror that everything might carry on exactly the same for the rest of my days. Some people say that, as summer approaches, we start to have weird ideas; we feel smaller because we spend more time out in the open air, and that makes us aware of how large the world is. The horizon seems farther away, beyond the clouds and the walls of our house.
That may be true, but I just can’t sleep anymore, and it isn’t because of the heat. When night comes and no one is watching, I feel afraid of everything: life, death, love or the lack of it; the fact that all novelties quickly become habits; the feeling that I’m wasting the best years of my life in a pattern that will be repeated over and over until I die; and sheer panic at facing the unknown, however exciting and adventurous that might be.
Naturally, I seek consolation in other people’s suffering.
I turn on the TV and watch the news. I see endless reports about accidents, people made homeless by natural disasters, refugees. How many people on the planet are ill right now? How many, whether in silence or not, are suffering injustices and betrayals? How many poor people are there, how many unemployed or imprisoned?
I change channels. I watch a soap or a movie and for a few minutes or hours I forget everything. I’m terrified my husband might wake up and ask: “What’s wrong, babe?” Because then I would have to say that everything’s fine. It would be even worse if—as happened a few times last month—he put his hand on my thigh, slid it slowly upward and started caressing me. I can fake orgasms—I often have—but I can’t just decide to get wet with excitement.
I would have to say that I’m really tired, and he, never for one moment admitting that he was annoyed, would give me a kiss, turn over, and watch the latest news on his tablet, waiting until the next day. And then I would hope against hope that when the next day comes, he’d be tired. Very tired.
It’s not always like that, though. Sometimes I have to take the initiative. If I reject him two nights in a row, he might go looking for a mistress, and I really don’t want to lose him. If I masturbate beforehand, then I’m ready and everything’s normal again.
“Normal” means that nothing will ever be as it was in the days when we were still a mystery to each other.
Keeping the same fire burning after ten years of marriage seems a complete impossibility to me. And each time I fake an orgasm, I die a little inside. A little? I think I’m dying more quickly than I thought.
My friends tell me how lucky I am, because I lie to them and tell them that we often make love, just as they lie to me when they say that they don’t know how their husbands can still be so interested in sex. They say that sex in marriage is interesting only for the first five years, and after that calls for a little “imagination.” Closing your eyes and imagining your neighbor lying on top of you, doing things your husband would never dare to do. Imagining having sex with him and your husband at the same time. Imagining every possible perversion, every forbidden game.
Paulo Coelho is the author of many international best sellers, including The Alchemist, The Pilgrimage, Eleven Minutes, Aleph, and Manuscript Found in Accra. Translated into 74 languages, his books have sold more than 140 million copies in more than 170 countries. He is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters and, in 2007, he was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Zoë Perry.
From the Hardcover edition.
"I WAKE up and perform the usual rituals—brushing my teeth, getting dressed for work, going into the children’s bedroom to wake them up, making break- fast for everyone, smiling, and saying how good life is. In every minute and gesture I feel a weight I can’t identify, like an ani- mal who can’t quite understand how it got caught in the trap. My food has no taste. My smile, on the other hand, grows even wider so that no one will suspect, and I swallow my desire to cry. The light outside seems gray. Yesterday’s conversation did no good at all; I’m starting to think that I’m headed out of the indignant phase and straight into apathy.
And does no one notice?
Of course not. After all, I’m the last person in the world to admit that I need help.
This is my problem; the volcano has exploded and there’s no way to put the lava back inside, plant some trees, mow the grass, and let the sheep out to graze.
I don’t deserve this. I’ve always tried to meet everyone’s expectations. But now it’s happened and I can’t do anything about it except take medication. Perhaps today I’ll come up with an excuse to write an article about psychiatry and social security (the newspaper loves that kind of thing) and find a good psychiatrist to ask for help. I know that’s not ethical, but then not everything is.
I don’t have an obsession to occupy my mind—for exam- ple, dieting or being OCD and finding fault with the clean- ing lady who arrives at eight in the morning and leaves at five in the afternoon, having washed and ironed the clothes, and tidied the house, and, sometimes, having even done the shopping, too. I can’t vent my frustrations by trying to be Super- mom, because my children would resent me for the rest of their lives.
I go off to work and again see the neighbor polishing his car. Wasn’t he doing that yesterday?
Unable to resist, I go over and ask him why.
“It wasn’t quite perfect,” he says, but only after having said “Good morning,” asking about the family, and noticing what a pretty dress I’m wearing.
I look at the car. It’s an Audi—one of Geneva’s nicknames is, after all, Audiland. It looks perfect, but he shows me one or two places where it isn’t as shiny as it should be.
I draw out the conversation and end up asking what he thinks people are looking for in life.
“Oh, that’s easy enough. Being able to pay their bills. Buying a house like yours or mine. Having a garden full of trees. Having your children or grandchildren over for Sunday lunch. Traveling the world once you’ve retired.”
Is that what people want from life? Is it really? There’s something very wrong with this world, and it isn’t just the wars going on in Asia or the Middle East.
Before I go to the newspaper, I have to interview Jacob, my ex-boyfriend from high school. Not even that cheers me up. I really am losing interest in things.
I LISTEN to facts about government policy that I didn’t even want to know. I ask a few awkward questions, which he deftly dodges. He’s a year younger than me, but he looks five years older. I keep this thought to myself. Of course, it’s good to see him again, although he hasn’t yet asked me what’s happened in my life since we each went our own way after graduation. He’s entirely focused on himself, his career, and his future, while I find myself staring foolishly back at the past as if I were still the adolescent who, despite the braces on my teeth, was the envy of all the other girls. After a while, I stop listening and go on autopilot. Always the same script, the same promises- reducing taxes, combating crime, keeping the French (the so-called cross-border workers who are taking jobs that Swiss workers could fill) out. Year after year, the issues are the same and the problems continue unresolved because no one really cares. After twenty minutes of conversation, I start to wonder if my lack of interest is due to my strange state of mind. No. There is nothing more tedious than interviewing politicians. It would have been better if I’d been sent to cover some crime or another. Murderers are much more real.
Compared to representatives of the people anywhere else on the planet, ours are the least interesting and the most insipid. No one wants to know about their private lives. Only two things create a scandal here: corruption and drugs. Then it takes on gigantic proportions and gets wall-to-wall cover- age because there’s absolutely nothing else of interest in the newspapers.
Does anyone care if they have lovers, go to brothels, or come out as gay? No. They continue doing what they were elected to do, and as long as they don’t blow the national bud- get, we all live in peace.
The president of the country changes every year (yes, every year) and is chosen not by the people, but by the Federal Council, a body comprising seven ministers who serve as Switzerland’s collective head of state. Every time I walk past the museum, I see endless posters calling for more plebiscites.
The Swiss love to make decisions—the color of our trash bags (black came out on top), the right (or not) to carry arms (Switzerland has one of the highest gun-ownership rates in the world), the number of minarets that can be built in the country (four), and whether or not to provide asylum for expatriates (I haven’t kept pace with this one, but I imagine the law was approved and is already in force).
“Excuse me, sir.”
We’ve been interrupted once already. He politely asks his assistant to postpone his next appointment. My newspaper is the most important in French-speaking Switzerland and this interview could prove crucial for the upcoming elections.
He pretends to convince me and I pretend to believe him.
Then I get up, thank him, and say that I have all the mate- rial I need.
“You don’t need anything else?” Of course I do, but it’s not up to me to tell him what. “How about getting together after work?” I explain that I have to pick up my children from school, hoping that he sees the large gold wedding ring on my finger declaring: “Look, the past is the past.”
“Of course. Well, maybe we can have lunch someday.”
I agree. Easily deceived, I think: Who knows, maybe he does have something of importance to tell me, some state secret that will change the politics of the country and make the editor look at me with new eyes.
He goes over to the door, locks it, then comes back and kisses me. I return his kiss, because it’s been a long time. Jacob, whom I may have once loved, is now a family man, married to a professor. And I am a family woman, married to a man who, though he inherited his wealth, is extremely hardworking.
I consider pushing him away and saying that we’re not kids anymore, but I’m enjoying it. Not only did I discover a new Japanese restaurant, I’m having a bit of illicit fun as well. I’ve managed to break the rules and the world hasn’t caved in on me. I haven’t felt this happy in a long time.
I feel better and better, braver, freer. Then I do something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was in school.
About the Author
In the latest novel from #1 best-selling author Paulo Coelho, a woman attempts to overcome midlife ennui by rediscovering herself in a passionate relationship with a man who had been a friend in her youth.
A woman in her thirties begins to question the routine and predictability of her days. In everybody's eyes, she has a perfect life: happy marriage, children, and a career. Yet what she feels is an enormous apathy. All that changes when she encounters a successful politician who had, years earlier, been her high school boyfriend. As she rediscovers the passion missing from her life, she will face a life-altering choice.