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.
"Coelho's disappointing new novel suffers from its lead character's navel-gazing. After an interview subject reveals his thoughts about living a passionate life to buttoned-up Linda, a 30-something journalist, mother, and wife to a loving, wealthy husband, she begins to believe her own life is empty. From there, she initiates an erotic affair with a high school boyfriend even after her first come-on leads him to suggest she enter marriage counseling. Her emotional nosedive includes an outrageous plan to win him over, and she ponderously dwells on John Calvin, St. Paul, King Solomon, Frankenstein, and Jekyll and Hyde. Coehlo's best work is personal and expansive, whether it concerns a Jewish prophet in the ninth century B.C.E. (The Fifth Mountain) or a young shepherd (The Alchemist) traveling widely in pursuit of treasure. Unfortunately, this novel's constrained Geneva setting lacks expansiveness, and what is personal quickly becomes plodding. For most of the story, Coelho abandons his beautifully spare, evocative prose in favor of overwrought sentences, returning to form only as the story nears its end." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
One of the most influential writers of our time, Paulo Coelho is the author of many international best sellers, including The Alchemist, Aleph, Eleven Minutes,
and Manuscript Found in Accra
. Translated into 80 languages, his books have sold more than 165 million copies in more than 170 countries. He is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters and has received the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur. In 2007, he was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Zoë Perry.
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Reading Group Guide
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.
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Adultery¸ international best-selling author Paulo Coelho’s gripping, intensely psychological portrait of a marriage on the brink of collapse, and the complex emotions that surface when trust is breached in a relationship.
1. In the beginning of the novel, Linda describes herself as risk-averse. How does the concept of risk taking factor into the protagonist’s actions throughout the novel? By the end of the novel, do you think that she associates risk with reward?
2. How is love defined throughout Adultery? On page 90, Linda contemplates requited versus unrequited love. Which type of love do you believe is more transformative in the novel?
3. Throughout the novel, the protagonist attempts to articulate what her unhappiness feels like: “an animal who can’t quite understand how it got caught in the trap,” a “spongy black hole.” How did these analogies help to shape your understanding of her mental state? Did you feel sympathy for the character throughout your reading experience?
4. On page 131, Linda claims she feels “comfortable in my madness.” Are there points where you feel that she is losing touch with reality or giving in to delusional thinking?
5. Why is Jacob so attractive to Linda? Is it the illicitness of their affair that excites her, or does she have a genuine appreciation for his personality? What aspects of his personality are most appealing to her?
6. On page 125, the protagonist emphasizes the importance of “keeping up appearances.[PE1] ” How does that need to exhibit a normal, happy life arise throughout Adultery? Where in the novel do the boundaries between public and private personas become blurred?
[PE1]Please verify that this is the page citation meant.
7. Discuss the significance of the novel Frankenstein throughout Adultery. How is the scientist/monster dichotomy reflected in the Linda’s own personality and actions?
8. On page 158, the protagonist laments that all she feels is “insomnia, emptiness, and apathy, and, if you just ask yourselves, you’re feeling the same thing.” Why do you think the author chose to direct that sentiment toward the reader? Are there other places in the novel wherein the protagonist assumes the reader feels the same way she does?
9. Examine the scene in which Marianne and Jacob dine with Linda and her husband. Based on what was said, do you think that Marianne had any suspicion about her husband’s affair? Or did Linda’s anxiety about the situation color her perception of Marianne’s words?
10. Discussions regarding drug usage in Switzerland occur several times in the book. Before going to meet the drug dealer, Linda notes that the Swiss “both prohibit and tolerate” drugs at the same time (page 116). What does this contradiction say about Swiss culture?
11. Adultery is set in Switzerland, and mentions of Swiss culture pepper the narrative. Discuss what you learned about Geneva and Swiss culture. Did anything surprise you? Are there any connections to be made between the discussion of cultural norms in Swiss culture and the protagonist’s actions?
12. As her affair progresses, Linda’s actions and thoughts take a darker, more obsessive tone. Did your perception of her change throughout the novel? How did you react to her decision to “destroy” Marianne?
13. Adultery is a novel that explores the line between morality and immorality. How does Linda define morality? How does her husband? What actions—if any—would you deem immoral?
14. It could be argued that Adultery is about examining selfhood. How does Linda’s understanding of herself and her desires change by the end of the novel? What does her affair teach her about herself? About her relationship with her husband? Do you think she regrets her affair?
15. Discuss the scene in which the protagonist and her husband go paragliding (page 241). How does that experience transform her? Why do you think she cries after she lands?