Adultery, by Paolo Coelho – A Review

I had Adultery on my book shelf for a while before I was able to get to it. But with the anticipation of a new take on an old tale – a woman who has everything finds herself somehow unfulfilled and bored by her life and engages in an affair – I knew I wanted to read it. Adultery promises an existential exploration of the psyche of a depressed person who is desperate to bring passion into her life, and while that does come through (with nods to Schopenhauer and other philosophers), I was left wanting something at the end of the novel, some form of satisfaction that, for me, remained missing.

**warning, spoilers ahead… though there isn’t much to spoil, unfortunately.

I really wanted to like this book. Coelho is a seasoned writer and talented author, and he writes Linda’s character well and convincingly, but my main issue was not that Linda is bored, but that she’s boring.

Sure, she does things that are supposed to be exciting – engaging in an affair with an old high school boyfriend, initiating the affair with a surprising and bold move, buying cocaine and plotting a drug frame-up – but that’s just the thing, none of these things feel exciting as we read them. And while we really get to know Linda’s psychological state as we read through her over-analysis and paranoia over her affair, we discover that she’s kind of annoying and she isn’t an enjoyable character to read.

And here’s the thing, she doesn’t need to be likeable to be enjoyable. Frank Underwood of House of Cards and Walter White of Breaking Bad are not likeable characters. But the payoff with them is that you enjoy watching what they will do, despite their skirting of ethical and moral rules. So we don’t need to like Linda, but we should at least like reading about her. But somewhere after the first quarter of the book, I found myself wondering when this was going to end.

The narrative had true potential to be interesting and entertaining. Stories about adultery tend to suggest excitement and taboo, and we do get a little excitement and taboo. But a little means precisely that, a little. And the rest is just Laura going on and on about how she is boring, how Geneva is boring, and how politics are fake… I wanted depth of character, complexity of narrative, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get that.

Was it awful? No, just boring. After all, Coelho knows how to write, and there are moments where that really shines through. Linda and her husband have this exchange by the fireplace after she all but admits to her affair. The exchange is very deep and insightful, and it stays with you. But there were also so many unexpected corny platitudes about love and life and sin that looked as if they belonged on a Hallmark card instead of a novel, and that put me off.

So this isn’t one I would recommend, but if you do want to read it, there are worse novels out there.

If you have read it, I’d love to know what you thought! Please share your feelings below 🙂
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