(The following review is spoiler-free.)
At a glance, Adèle seems to have a calm, collected, and easygoing life. She lives with her surgeon husband, Richard, and their young son Lucien in Paris, where she works as a journalist for a local newspaper. But hidden beneath the surface of her carefully constructed façade, Adèle is hiding secrets of temptation, lies, and sexual addiction that threaten to tear her world apart.
The hardest part about reviewing a novel like this is that it doesn’t read as such. It doesn’t feel as though I read a story about a troubled woman named Adèle, but rather that I experienced the tumultuous events alongside her during this period of her life. And thus, if there is one thing that I wish most to give Leila Slimani credit for, it is the atmosphere that she created with this work.
I could feel the rain in Paris, I was overwrought by the tension between husband and wife, but above all, I endured every moment of pain, fear, and regret that comes with lying to those you hold closest.
While Adèle is consumed by and succumbs to her sexual desires, they are not what defines her. It is all too easy in our world to look at someone who is repeatedly unfaithful and sexually unfulfilled (especially one who is female) and label them as a number of disparaging terms. But one task that this book tackles wonderfully is immersing the reader within the mind of Adèle, which helps one better understand the mindset behind her rather immoral decisions. The reader understands that her actions and desires are not malicious, and are often undesired by Adèle herself.
On multiple occasions, after a sexual encounter with a colleague or total stranger, Adèle will experience a great amount of shame and regret. This is established very early on and is repeated multiple times throughout the duration of the novel.
“She wants to get home as fast as possible, to be at Richard’s bedside, in the warm calm of his gaze. Tomorrow she will make dinner. She’ll clean the house, she’ll buy flowers. She’ll drink wine with him and tell him about her day. She’ll make plans for the weekend. She will be conciliatory, gentle, servile. She’ll say yes to everything.”‘Adèle’ by Leila Slimani
This quote brings forth an interesting idea that the novel revisits many times, which is how Adèle wants to be treated. She explains in the first chapter that she wishes to be “a doll in an ogre’s garden.” This, I believe, is one of the roots of her troubles. She is torn between wanting to be a perfect object in men’s lives both sexually and romantically. These two aspects of her desires clash and make it impossible for her to live a married life without sexual affairs, and vice versa. The mental torture that this exudes upon Adèle is one of the most well-developed themes in the novel and is displayed for the reader clearly, but not overwhelmingly so.
Now, while I praise this book for its realistic and emotionally-driven approach, I do have my gripes with it, but they are minimal.
For much of the novel, it was not clear to me how Adèle felt about many of the people in her life, especially her husband and child. Now, I am almost sure that this was intentional, seeing that much of Adèle’s emotions are blurred by her lifestyle, but if that is the case, I feel that there should have been more emphasis placed upon it.
Another small complaint I have with the novel is that Adèle’s parents, while a large part of her background, are very underdeveloped as characters. Her mother has an emotional scene near the end of the novel that is rather unexpected, seeing that we have had little-to-no dialogue from her up to that point.
Adèle’s father is another story. The novel sets up a strange and compelling relationship between the father and daughter early on but mentions it only once more near the close of the book. I felt that this was a missed opportunity to dive into Adèle’s past and the root of some of her emotional troubles, which is an avenue that is rarely traveled in the book.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Slimani’s writing is simple, beautiful, and flows with ease, allowing for a quick and enjoyable read. The story left me begging for more and beckons me back towards it. I am sure that I will revisit this novel in the near future, and feel confident in giving it an 8 out of 10.
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Favorite Lines (Spoilers):
“What he fears is what people will say about her, the way they will stereotype her, reduce her. The way they will caricature his sadness. What he fears the most is that they will force him into a decision, telling him confidently: “In these circumstances, Richard, you have no choice: you must leave her.” Talking makes things irreversible.”‘Adèle’ by Leila Slimani