Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book Review: "Adultery" by Paulo Coelho

Thought-provoking but preachy

About the book
"Adultery" follows the narrator Linda. A Swiss women in her thirties, married with three children, who appears to be suffering from a late quarter life crisis. As she questions her everyday life and the world and asks "is this it?" she starts to look for something to shake up her world a little. This leads to her starting an affair with a politician.

I've been a fan of Paulo Coelho's for many years. What I especially enjoy is the modern fairy tale feel his novels have thanks to his beautiful language, even when they're set in a modern urban world. "Adultery" is not an exception.

It starts off energetic, as Linda introduces herself and her world to the reader. I felt immediately drawn in. Coelho paints a vivid picture of her life, and I felt as if I knew her. He also shows me the perfect example of when the main character doesn't necessarily need to be likable to win my sympathy. Although she may came off as sarcastic and negative—which is obviously a result of her crisis—I sympathized with her struggle. While on a conscious level, one might say "what are you complaining about, get a grip" I never for one second felt that way. Things she was "complaining" about may have seemed trivial had they not been explored properly. But her internal struggle was indeed written in such a way that I felt nothing but compassion.

As far as the other three important characters go, they felt round and real (although the husband is always referred to as "my husband" and Linda's name is expressed twice the entire novel). I was also wondering why we didn't see more of her children, as this would have given me a greater sense of what she sacrificed when she decide to have an affair. But this was nothing that bothered me.

Coelho paints a vivid picture of Geneva as well, just like he did with the sexual scenes. Nothing is sugar-coated, and many people would blush reading certain parts of this novel on the subway. He took no shortcuts and it felt real.

I always know when picking up a Paulo Coelho novel, that it's not going to be just a story. It'll force me to think and many times my eyes are opened up to new views. However, there is a fine line between a self-help book and a novel which incorporates philosophical views. Unfortunately I don't feel that Coelho found a smooth way to share his views this time. At times there were long, preachy internal monologues by Linda and the dialogues between the characters did not sound natrual. The characters seemed more like puppets reading rehearsed lines set up to make it easier for the author to convey his point of view. Some of these ideas also sounded farfetched and at times they were even redundant, when the same views were repeated several times in different metaphors.

The only thing I would complain about in terms of the main character was the generalizing about people in general. Because she was the narrator, I found myself blaming her when she expressed opinions about us humans as if we are all the same, assuming that we all reacted the same way to the same situations, and that we all shared her opinions and feelings about certain things. I wanted to read about her and how she perceived the world—not for her to tell me how the world is. This, in combination with the issues mentioned above, gave it a slightly preachy feel.

Perhaps Coelho's novels have always been like this and that this is what you're looking for when you seek his work. It's been a few years since I last read any of his other novels, so I honestly can't recall.

The title doesn't do the novel justice. It's about so much more than adultery. The adultery is just a result of what this woman is going through, and the novel is about so much more than that. Although my experience this time wasn't as great as reading Coelho's other novels, I would still recommend this book as a valuable read. And I do appreciate his beautiful language, that I am willing to forgive the preachiness.

Author: Paulo Coelho
Publisher: Knopf
Release date: August 19, 2014