My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Adultery (2014) by Paulo Coelho read more like a hashed out version of Fifty Shades of Grey and, although Paulo shines in his ability to mimic voices, the story reads fast but flat with a few key insights into love and betrayal in a rather short book of 255 pages.
As much as readers love The Alchemist, Adultery, Paulo’s sixteenth book which echoes themes found in his Eleven Minutes and Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, is a far different kind of book that sees its protagonist, Linda—a wealthy reporter living in Geneva, Switzerland—who quickly introduces herself and the loose tone of the narrative:
“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” (p 3).
But Linda, who could be most any woman, quickly dispels any pretenses and gets to work setting the context for her depression which leads to her affair with Jacob König:
“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” (6).
Paulo does tend to pepper his classic proverbs throughout, and the following does capture nicely what the book’s thesis attempts to convey:
“To love abundantly is to live abundantly.
“To love forever is to live forever. Eternal life coupled with Love” (p 254).
The existential crisis, however, soon spins into soft porn as Linda decides to seduce her old high school sweetheart, Jacob:
“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.
“Kneeling down, I unzip his fly and wrap my mouth around his penis. He grabs my hair and controls the rhythm of my head. He comes in less than a minute.
“‘God, that was good.’
“I say nothing. The fact is that it was far better for me than for him, since he came so quickly” (p 25).
And Linda begins her sordid affair, hiding her indiscretions from her loving husband the following night:
“My husband gets home and, as usual, he kisses me, asks what kind of day I’ve had and what we’re having for supper. I give him the usual answers. If he doesn’t notice anything different about the routine, he won’t suspect that today I gave oral sex to a politician.
“Which, it should be said, gave me no physical pleasure at all. But now I’m mad with desire, needing a man, needing to be kissed, and needing to feel the pain and pleasure of a body on top of mine” (p 28).
If the reader seeks a morality tale, Adultery isn’t the book to turn to, nor is it like Madam Bovary’s warning claiming doom for married women who have sex outside their marriage.
What is interesting to note about the character Linda is that she suffers from depression because in her thirties she has started, and quite naturally-biologically so, to question the life structure she has committed to earlier in her life—more of this kind of dilemma facing men and women through all their life stages can be found in The Seasons of a Man’s Life (1978) and The Seasons of a Woman’s Life (1997)—and Paulo touches on this part of Linda’s struggle when he writes about the ‘Return of Saturn’:
“No, my Saturn return has already happened. I need to know exactly what it means. He gives me a lesson in astrology: Saturn takes twenty-nine years to return to the point in the sky where it was at the moment we were born. Until that happens, everything seems possible, our dreams can come true, and any walls hemming us in can still be broken down. When Saturn completes this cycle, it puts an end to any romanticism. Choices become definitive and it’s nearly impossible to change direction” (p 33).
But Linda is determined to conquer her depression and find love once again, even if it is with another married man, and the psychology of the book swoops and dives, keeping the reader on edge as to the believability and seductiveness hidden between the lines.
“It isn’t love (or is it?), but that doesn’t matter. My love belongs to me and I’m free to offer it to whomever I choose, even if it’s unrequited. Of course, it would be great if it were requited, but if not, who cares. I’m not going to give up digging this hole, because I know that there’s water down below. Fresh water.
“I’m pleased by that last thought: I’m free to love anyone in the world…
“I’m not going to repress my feelings any longer. This challenge is my salvation” (p 90).
The idea of water returns toward the end of the book, but not as a redemptive or forgiving force, but as a symbol of love expressing its natural evolution on humanity in the constant motion of time:
“Powerful pumps were installed and now an extremely forceful jet shoots out five hundred liters of water per second, at two hundred kilometers per hour. They say, and I’ve confirmed it, that it can be seen from an airplane at thirty thousand feet. It doesn’t have a special name; it’s just called Jet d’Eau (jet of water), the city’s landmark in spite of all the sculptures of men on horses, heroic women, lonely children.
“I once asked Denise, a Swiss scientist, what she thought of the Jet d’Eau…
“‘Love is always changing. I think that the Jet d’Eau is the most beautiful monument to love conceived by the art of man, because it is also never the same’” (p 220).
Adultery by Paulo Coelho lacks the lasting significance found in The Alchemist but may prove a refreshing read for any woman seeking to explore a fantasy during a warm bubble bath and wine, and who is to say there’s no happy ending?
Paulo does remind us of one more important thing, however:
“To find Peace in the heavens, we must find love on Earth. Without it, we are worthless” (p 114).
Keep reading and smiling…