Paulo Coelho’s novels have certain themes that pervade throughout. His works are about spiritual awakenings, questions around love, God and morality. Adultery, his latest work, is no different. And that is part of why it falls flat: we’ve heard it all before.
The narrator is Linda, a 30-something wife, mother, and journalist who lives in one of the most insipid cities in Europe, Geneva. She has nothing to complain about. Her husband is “perfect”, she loves him and her children. She’s happy, but not. At first she questions whether she might have depression, a disease that Coelho treats in an offhand, almost flippant way.
Linda decides she is not depressed, but rather bored. Her ordinary, happy, privileged life is simply not enough. So, when she interviews a politician whom she used to date in high school, she decides to have an affair. The sex is rough, unloving, but Linda keeps wanting more, convincing herself she is in love. At times she feels guilty, but she defends herself, saying she deserves adventure. There was a possibility here to delve into why women cheat and the emotions wrapped up in adultery, but Linda is steeped in self-indulgence.
Her epiphany towards the latter part of the novel feels trite. The catchphrase “Sometimes you have to lose yourself to discover who you are” belies the plot. Linda doesn’t lose herself, she comes across as naive and self-absorbed. The story is difficult to invest in.
Coelho’s epigraph is from Luke 5:4, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Yet there is no depth in this novel. The Bible verses that are interspersed feel out of place. The book is full of the clichés you find on sugar packets in coffee shops: “Life is not a long vacation, but a constant learning process.”
Adultery lacks the simple nuance and beauty with which Coelho has described spiritual journeys as in The Alchemist and Veronika Decides to Die. This latest effort is a mundane attempt.
Local publisher: Penguin Random House