Adultery by Paulo Coelho is a beautifully written tale of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other in the name of love, lust, boredom or depression. It’s a story where you’ll have to look quite hard to find anybody to like in amongst its cast of spoiled and over-privileged characters.
Linda is Swiss. She’s successful in her journalism career, she has a fabulous marriage to a man with lots of inherited wealth and whom she loves. Her husband who’d happily give her anything she wanted, and they have two beautiful problem-free children. Linda has everything any woman could want – down to a fabulous figure, a wardrobe full of expensive clothes . She arouses “desire in men and envy in other women”. The problem is that Linda is bored. She can’t cope with the idea of something so dire as just not feeling fulfilled so she decides she has depression. She wants adventure, she wants variety, and the next thing you know she’s interviewing her childhood sweetheart who’s now a politician and she’s giving him a blow-job. Yep, that’s where this is going. The cure for boredom with Linda appears to be lust but as anyone who seeks a physical or pharmaceutical cure for their troubles finds out, cures are seldom simple or straightforward.
Over the following chapters she fights her inner demons and mostly lets them win. She goes to a variety of mental health professionals and ‘healers’ in the hope of finding a solution for her lost sense of being and in most cases, she’s not ready to listen to what they say. In between appointments she meets the lover and has nasty, unfriendly sex in hotel rooms. Because she’s the kind of woman she is, she can only come to terms with this by convincing herself she’s in love; in love with a horrible but successful man who’s clearly just in it for what he can get. She meets – and instantly loathes – his wife and plots how to bring about her rival’s downfall, whilst all the time she goes home to her lovely husband and lovely children and considers life to be horribly unfair.
At times it feels like she’s pushed the self-destruct button and is heading straight to hell. At others there are tiny glimpses that she’s not completely given up her final scraps of self-control. There are ultra-embarrassing encounter between her and her husband and ‘him’ and his wife. There are friends who’ve medicated themselves into docile happiness, there’s a shaman-type guru who has to threaten her not to come near him again, and there’s more of the nasty, mechanical, loveless sex. It’s all very painful. But oddly – because it’s Paulo Coelho – it’s also so beautifully written that you have to keep reading. I was hooked, I almost wanted something really awful to happen to Linda because if any anti-heroine ever ‘asked for it’, she did. She’s horrible.
Did I mention that Linda is Swiss? I don’t know why Coelho chose to set the story in Switzerland in the ultra-rich city of Geneva but I’m sure it was coldly calculated to add something to the story. Switzerland is a country of strict rules – where you can park, when you can light your bonfire, even when you can hang our duvet out of the window to give it an airing. It’s not – sorry to the Swiss – what you might consider a ‘sexy’ country. If the story were set in France or Italy, we’d shrug and say “That’s the French/Italians for you – pathologically prone to affairs”. But the Swiss? Can a country that depends on banking and watches for its financial health and melted cheese and chocolate for its nutritional wellbeing every be considered sexy? Let’s just say I’m yet to be persuaded and for that reason I found the setting fascinating.
I was reading this last week on a business trip. I felt entirely unsympathetic for the narrator, and then when I was about 100 pages into the book Robin Williams killed himself. I found myself defending the right of the rich and famous to have mental health problems just like everyone else and I tried to look upon Linda as a victim of depression and not a spoiled woman with everything she could possibly want – but I failed. I still couldn’t like her. In fact, I still couldn’t see her problem as depression rather than severe ennui.
Paulo Coelho is one of those authors that I know I OUGHT to have read because he’s just so famous and so well regarded. I have half a dozen of his books – but I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve not actually read any of them. When the publishers offered a pre-publication copy of his latest book, I thought it might be the incentive I needed to make myself read him at last. I’m very glad that I did and I’ll certainly start attacking the pile on my shelf but I’m happy to put Linda and her over-privileged dalliances to one side.
Adultery by Paulo Coelho
Published by Hutchinson, August 2014
With thanks to the publishers for sending a review copy.
|Buy book online