Bentley’s Grade: D+
Author: Leila Slimani (translated from French by Sam Taylor)
Publisher and Date: Penguin 2019 (translation)
Page Length: 216
Adèle doesn’t know what she wants. On one hand, she’s got the perfect life: mother, doctor’s wife, journalist; on the other hand, her insatiable desire for sex and secret rendezvous with various men leave her unsatisfied and discontented. After months of cheating, Richard finally learns of Adèle’s infidelity and confronts her. Unable to leave Adèle, and with the hope of rehabilitating her, Richard decides that they will leave their home in Paris and live a quieter, less complicated life in the countryside. But is rehabilitation possible for Adèle?
I found myself racing through the novel not because I was enthralled, but because I wanted to get it over with. You spend a few hundred pages following the indecisive and sex-crazed Adèle around Paris, then you get to the end and are left thinking, okay—so what? I don’t know whether she’s addicted, traumatized, self-absorbed, sexually empowered, independent, non-conformist, or all of these, but I was slightly disgusted by her behaviour throughout the novel. Maybe that’s the point? I’m not sure. I’m all for women’s sexual freedom, but when it becomes violent and you’re purposefully putting your body in danger, I’m not on board.
I will say that I appreciate how the reader begins to question Richard’s behaviour as well; he seems just as unable to control himself or let himself deviate from his rigid routine and ideals, as Adèle is unable to control her urges and stay on the straight and narrow. I also appreciate the open ending; we’re left to wonder whether Adèle will return to Richard or not, and I suppose she will given their relationship dynamic.
My biggest issue with this novel is the writing style. At first, I applauded the use of short sentences, for they seemed to reflect Adèle’s sense of urgency, the quick, staccato rhythm mimicking her inability to concentrate. But by the second chapter I started to change my tune, and I wondered whether the technique was deliberate or not. The sentences become repetitive and, again, it’s unclear whether this is intentional. Either way, by chapter three it starts to feel like a children’s book: Adèle does this, Adèle does that… Cow goes moo, cat goes meow…
If the writing style is, in fact, unintentional, then I wonder whether something has been lost in translation from the original French. In addition to the clipped sentences, there are a lot of passive verb constructions that bog the reader down; I can’t be sure if this is the fault of the author, or the translator’s poor attempt to recreate the author’s original style/tone. In a few passages, particularly the second last sentence on page thirty six, a second opinion (or a thesaurus) would have been useful. At any rate, I do think this novel would make an interesting case for translation studies.
If you’re looking for an easy read with a tormented protagonist that enjoys rough sex, then this book is for you; if not, steer clear of it. I’d rather you read Fifty Shades of Grey—and that’s saying something.