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written by Leila Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor

Originally titled DANS LE JARDIN DE L’OGRE (IN THE OGRE’S GARDEN), Leila Slimani's debut, ADÈLE, won the La Mamounia Prize in 2015, an award for Moroccan literature written in French. The name Adèle means nobility, and this provocative eponymous novel is the portrait of a woman who is noble in stature, yet not in character. Adèle, who “wants to be a doll in an ogre's garden,” is a chronic adulteress.

The beautiful wife of Dr. Richard Robinson, 35-year-old Adèle has restrained herself from having an affair for a week, yet the feverish compulsion rattles her nerves like delirium tremens. Beneath the façade of her ostensibly ideal life in Paris as a journalist, wife and mother, she is bored and restless.

Her cuckolded husband, to whom she has been married for nine years, “is proud because he considers her a smart, independent woman,” but Adèle “hates the idea that she must work to make a living.” A tangle of contradictions, Adèle is an anti-heroine. She wishes to be taken care of, yet despises the bourgeois lifestyle her husband provides. She is independent, yet in a world that values women's autonomy, she has an insatiable craving for objectification: “To the outrage of all those proud working women who surround her, Adèle wishes she could spend her days lazing around a large house with no objective other than to look beautiful when her husband returns.”

"ADÈLE is a complex and formidable exploration of female sexuality.... Adèle is just as much of an enigma to the reader as she is to her lovers, family and friends."

An uninspired newspaper journalist, she plagiarizes and fabricates quotes, and lacks the enthusiasm of her colleagues for covering the Tunisian Revolution. The only thing she relishes about her job is that it grants her the ability to travel and serves as a cover-up for her clandestine affairs. Having a predilection for rough sex with strange men, she leads a double life, keeping a separate white flip phone to communicate with the lovers she wishes to see again. She overdraws her bank account on taxis, hotel rooms, lingerie and cocktails during her sub rosa dalliances. She indulges in increasingly brazen affairs, seducing her best friend's boyfriend and even one of her husband's colleagues.

With pornographic passages evocative of the poetic erotica of Anaïs Nin, Slimani gives voyeuristic glimpses into Adèle's sexual exploits in terse and lurid prose. Adèle's random trysts enervate her, and she often regrets them before they even begin. As one of her conquests undressed, “She felt her heart shrink, faced with the banality of a zipper, the prosaic vulgarity of a pair of socks, the clumsiness of a drunk young man.” She shut her eyes during the act, “as if seeing him disgusted her, as if she was already thinking about the next men, the real men, the good ones, somewhere else, the ones who would finally know how to control her body.”

Adèle's duplicity exhausts her as she struggles to balance her family life with her extramarital activities. Richard adores their three-year-old son Lucien, while she feels inadequate as a mother. Burdened by her maternal duties, “sometimes Adèle wonders if they even need a wife and mother. Perhaps the two of them could live perfectly happily without her.”

Oblivious to the ennui of his wayward wife, Richard yearns for another child and a picturesque house with a lush garden in the Lisieux countryside. The house he has chosen for them is referred to as “the manor" by the locals. If they move there, Adèle can quit the job she loathes and be a housewife. As they are viewing the house, she sees the bed in which the former lady of the manor died, confronting her with her own mortality.

Dissipating her vitality with every petite mort, Adèle is terrified of death and regularly gets tested for AIDS. She recalls being titillated while reading a steamy passage in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera as a youth, and perhaps this gleans some insight into her existential struggle. When Adèle crosses paths with former paramours who tell her they had a difficult time getting over her, she feels “as if all of it has not been in vain. As if, in spite of her best intentions, some sort of meaning is somehow mixed up in this eternal repetition.” This hints at Nietzsche’s philosophical idea of eternal recurrence. Perhaps the suffering she causes herself with these habitual affairs is granting her some form of immortality through the memories of her former lovers.

ADÈLE is a complex and formidable exploration of female sexuality. While insinuating that something deeper is going on beneath Adèle's surface, Slimani is not interested in revealing motivation or engaging in psychological analysis. Adèle is just as much of an enigma to the reader as she is to her lovers, family and friends. Men may think she is a “slut,” women may perceive her as a threat or “emotionally fragile,” but “they will all be wrong.”

Reviewed by Rachel McConnell on February 1, 2019

written by Leila Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor

  • Publication Date: January 15, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0143132180
  • ISBN-13: 9780143132189