Paulo Coelho’s “Adultery” – Book Review by Marilyn Eshikena
If, like me, your first and only encounter with Paulo Coelho was with The Alchemist, then you will understand my excitement in reaching for another book by the writer. Adultery, much like the Alchemist is enveloped by a very simple title that summarizes the book while hiding all other themes and poignant points that the book makes. I am usually more attracted to flamboyant, witty titles. But hey, it’s Paulo Coelho – forget the title and dive right in.
Adultery is a story of a year in the life of a young woman told through her eyes, in her voice. I found it interesting that four pages before the book begins, there is a sentence that reads “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for those who turn to you. Amen.” This, along with the title, already sets the scene for what is to come. And so there is barely any surprise as the already unfurled story unfolds. The protagonist, Linda, whose name we do not get to know until later in the book (and whose name does not really stick with us because it is only mentioned that one time – twice at most), is a character that I found difficult to like. From the opening pages of the book, Linda is heard whining about her life. She is depressed and in the brilliancy of Paulo Coelho, this fact does not need to be spelled out to us although it is. Her depression is palpable. From the first sentence and throughout the book, as she struggles to fight her way out of this depression, you, the reader, are affected by it. But don’t worry it does not follow you into your real life. It is only infectious for as long as your eyes are glued to the pages of Adultery.
Living in Switzerland, where it appears she was born and raised, Linda is in her early 30s and has everything that most people will think makes for a perfect and somewhat accomplished life. She works as a journalist in an acclaimed national newspaper. She is married to a seemingly successful and financially buoyant man who seems to adore her and has two children who we barely get to know. They are just props in the book and are not entirely relevant to the story Linda is telling – although, in my opinion, we could have benefitted from seeing her relationship with them. Anyway, this depression is eating into her. She refuses to accept that she has a clinically diagnosable disease and will not take medication for it. She does not think that she is ‘one of those people’.
In the midst of this depression, in what felt somewhat inorganic to me, she has to meet and interview a politician who used to be her high school sweetheart. That afternoon, they have a sexual encounter that began and ended with her on her knees, his trousers down and him reaching the heights of pleasure. Doing this was not something she had nursed prior to meeting him. It was all very spontaneous and exhilarating. And so it was not a surprise that they saw each other again and a secret affair began. However, due to her state of mind, we see her wrestling between love and lust – in trying to give a name to what she was doing with this married politician. At one point, she is convinced that it was love. However, their trysts did nothing to reinforce this conviction. It was all very animalistic and almost derogatory, nothing at all tender about them – but she liked it. His wife was not left out of the drama. She was a presence that was heavily felt although her actual presence in the book was minimal. Linda was jealous of her and in what I would call the peak of her madness she decides to frame this woman – a university professor – for cocaine possession. She tries but never actually goes through with her devious plan.
There were times when it felt as though Linda was two different people. There was the Linda that seemed so fragile, whiny about her state of mind, afraid of what it meant. And then there was the Linda that had these strong outbursts of spontaneous acts like having an affair with a former lover, going to buy cocaine in the streets and then wearing a disguise and going into the office of her lover’s wife with the intent of planting the cocaine in it, and then having these uncharacteristic sarcastic outbursts in public. The switching was a little jarring but it was definitely not unbelievable given the state of mind that Linda was in.
This other life that Linda is living is eventually too much for her to handle. She had first agonized over telling her husband about how she has been feeling. She does this in a surprisingly short amount of time. We then see how loving he is as he tries all he can to get her out of her funk – although she is certain that he does not understand what she means. One week, after one of her spontaneous outbursts at the dinner table that comprised her husband, the politician and his wife, she goes back to being her fragile self again and decides it is time to come clean to her husband about the affair. She does not need to however, because he speaks words that seem to show that he is already in the know. Throughout the book, we never know for sure if he really did know.
The book ends after a short vacation the couple takes to heal, find each other individually and together. It is on this vacation that her husband, intoxicated, is able to open up about his deepest fears and fragility. He is not at all as perfect as she had imagined and for some reason, this puts one more piece of her broken self, back in its place. Her complete healing comes when she reluctantly goes paragliding. Her husband thinks it will be a good idea – he wants to do something exhilarating. She does not think it is a good idea. But she does it anyway and it is while she is far above ground that she experiences a release in the form of conversing with an eagle that flies with her until she lands on ground. Her touching ground results in a final outburst of emotion – in the form of tears and this is where we know that she is whole again. Completely healed and ready to move forward with her marriage, with her children, with her life.
As is his signature, Paulo Coelho makes you think. There are phrases and sentences that make you want to pause and ponder. Make you want to see how true they are in your own life, to learn from them and see how these can be implemented in your own life. I like that. Adultery is a book with lessons and ponderable sentences that are applicable to anybody at all – as long as you are human- living this life. It does not matter if you are in a situation where you can relate with the protagonist or any of the other characters.
A technique that Coelho uses in writing this book that I will say contributes to the palpability of the protagonist’s emotions is the fact that he does not use quotation marks where she is involved. Sometimes, this might make it difficult to differentiate her speech from her thoughts but it makes for an interesting absorption of her essence.
If there is one criticism I have, however, of this book, it is in the dialogue. It was all very inorganic. Unbelievable. Every character sounded the same. Without having the speaker named, it will be impossible to distinguish who said what. It was also hard for me to believe that these people spoke in the way they did – like wise sages all the time (even when they were being anything but wise). Every conversation was heavy, even in the lightest of situations. Every uttered word- serious.
In all, this is a book that provides moral lessons through the use of a story told in a modern setting. I dare say, however, that given the tone, I would have enjoyed it more were it told as a fable.
– Marilyn Eshikena(www.thekinkandi.wordpress.com)