“Adele,” the 2014 novel by French-Moroccan writer Leila Slimani, finally arrives in translation for the United States. Adele is bored by her job as a globetrotting reporter, bored with her 3-year-old son, bored with her friends, bored with her surgeon husband and his bourgeois dreams of leaving their Paris home for a country manor.
Instead she throws herself into a series of illicit affairs—with strangers, one-night stands, her husband’s married friends, the doctor who treats her husband’s injuries after a motor scooter crash. She fucks in nightclubs, apartments, hotel rooms, building lobbies. Adele is electrified and her anxieties dissolve as the sex turns more sordid and risky and violent, the more she dares being exposed.
Underneath, “Adele” feels like a 19th century gothic romance, frustrating because the leading woman can never escape her limited opportunities. But reimagined for the #LeanIn era. Here dreams are stifled by comfortable, upper-middle-class marriage. Slimani tells her tale with a striking tone—the flat, chilly clinicalness of a contemporary serial killer thriller.
The sex keeps it moving along until about half way through, when the wife of a friend reports Adele’s affair to Adele’s husband. Then the story turns ever more sad and sour as her husband punishes her. He isolates Adele in a country manor as a stay-at-home mom without a car, cut off from friends, cut off from society. She goes along to save their marriage, to not lose her son.
Adele’s days are tedium—for her and us. Backstories percolate up of early amorous adventures, of upward mobility, of the husband’s disinterest in sex. Traditional gender roles cruelly assert themselves. The story ends with confinement, terrible compromises, dreary desolation and a desperate getaway.
If this is the kind of coverage of arts, cultures and activisms you appreciate, please support Wonderland by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting.