Novel set mainly in Paris (devoured by obsession)

4th February 2019

Adèle by Leïla Slimani, novel set mainly in Paris.

Adèle is married to her doctor husband, Richard, and together they have a young son Lucien. They live in a nice apartment in a flourishing arrondissement in Paris. A happy little family unit, then….

Novel set mainly in Paris

However, Adèle seeks sexual encounters with random partners at all hours of the day and night. It is a compulsion that devours, satiates and stimulates her – or does it? Risk-taking fires her imagination as she dives headlong into yet another sordid and dangerous liaison. Richard, ploughing away at his career as a doctor, is oblivious for now. Inevitably her precarious house of cards will come toppling down.

Why would a woman do this, live life on the edge, take risks with both her marriage and her personal health? There are indicators that her mother’s behaviour – undermining and patronising to her daughter – may have had some impact; her unreciprocated devotion to her father has maybe left her yearning for more male attention; Richard is generally sexually disinterested…. Adèle is a woman with an emotional void that she tries to fill with close encounters. Yes, it’s about sexual addiction, it’s about dissociation, it’s about warped power, subjugation and control; and it’s about trying to feel alive. She revels like an automaton in her life and her addiction, she is energised by controlling who or what she puts in her body (whether it’s what she eats or other people’s body parts)… she goes through the motions of being a sentient human being. Adèle essentially is hidden not only from her husband but also from the reader, she is a case study in vacuous self absorption.

Sex addiction is a very tricky and damaging phenomenon, not only to the individual but to those around. I very much enjoyed Lullaby and in Adèle the author writes with the same verve and demonstrates once again her very competent and intense writing style. The reader can be prurient about the subject matter but for me, this novel only peels back a light layer revealing a tormented woman who doesn’t have the capacity for self reflection. This makes her rather two dimensional. Richard is little better in that he doesn’t seem to have moved on much from seeing Adèle as arm candy, oh, and as a wife and mother (and, reader, we know she really isn’t very committed to either role).

Their marriage can’t be in great shape but that isn’t really explored. Richard’s stab at balancing his power deficit is to suggest that, as a family, they move lock, stock and barrel to the countryside. Drop everything and everyone they know in Paris.

Yes, there is an element of curious interest in Adèle’s fleshly pursuits (erotic the tale is not) but overall, for me, I couldn’t plumb any human depths that made this novel really stand out from other novels where sex addiction is integral to the storyline.

The novel will nevertheless, I am sure, be a popular read in 2019 because the author really is adept at creating characters that are compelling and unpleasant.

Check out the Vogue interview with the author

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