Potential readers of Adultery who prejudge it negatively based upon its title alone are going to miss out on a very fine literary novel - one that strives to put the reader inside the head of a young woman on the brink of doing something that has the potential to ruin her life. Yes, just as its title implies, Paulo Coelho’s latest novel is about sex outside the bounds of marriage (and, yes, the sex acts are described in rather explicit detail), but the main character’s adulterous acts are just one part of her story.
Linda, barely into her thirties, already seems to have it all: two great children, a wealthy husband who truly loves her, and a newspaper job that she mostly enjoys. Linda, however, is already becoming bored with it all, and she is terrified at the thought that life has no more surprises in store for her. But her depression has her equally terrified that everything in her life could suddenly change. As she puts it in a moment of self-reflection:
“…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.”
When chance throws Linda into contact with a man as unhappy as she is, she aggressively jumps at the chance to live out her fantasies. And, for a while, it works; she is happier with her life and believes that she has made the right choice. It is only when her fling becomes an addiction, and exposure seems more and more likely, that Linda begins to understand the immense risk she is taking.
Admittedly, Adultery is only one woman’s story, but it does a superb job of exploring one motivation for, or cause of, of adulterous affairs between people who have everything to lose and so little to gain from the flings. Paulo Coelho does not justify adultery in this novel – far from it. Instead, he explores it, and shows just how destructive it can be.
Margaret Jull Costa and Zoe Perry translated Adultery from the Portuguese, and they did such a fine job with the translation that, not once, did I feel that I was reading from a translated manuscript. Adultery is neither a piece of soft porn nor a romance novel; what it is, is a powerful look deep into the soul of a young woman in trouble, and I recommend it.