Adele, by Leila Slimani: Vapid and Lacking

Posted on | February 20, 2021

Adele by Leila Slimani is one of those books that I so desperately wanted to like based on the reviews, and ended up absolutely loathing based on the actual content. It’s a book-length bit of New Yorker fiction, you know the type: contemporary, moody, and pointless. meaningful plot. If a story is what happened, and a plot is why it happened, then Slimani has written a story that goes nowhere.

I was intrigued with the story because it purported to be a story about a nymphomaniac. That was the word used in the first review I stumbled across, and of course the critics were all over themselves to praise a woman for daring to write a story about a woman obsessed with sex, and about a husband who’s just not into sex all that much.

Adele, the titular character, is married to Richard, a solid, stolid, and loyal man, a doctor who works out of a major Paris hospital, and they have one child together, a boy named Lucien. Adele lives a double life, with a steady stream of men she meets and has sex with on a regular basis. The whole plot revolves around one simple question: When will Richard find out, and what will he do?

For a 180-page book, the answer is that Richard finds out around page 110, and he does… spoiler alert, but if you’ve ever read the New Yorker, you already know the answer… he does almost nothing. He suffers, Adele suffers, Lucien suffers.

But Slimani seems to be completely uninterested in why. Adele’s mother gives a speech about how Adele was “dangerous to men” the moment she hit puberty, and Adele’s best friend tells her that the stolid, married life was never meant for her, and really this book just ends up a portrait of two people who married for convention who should never have been in the same room together.

And for a genre that’s all about introspection, Adele is uninterested in why she wants what she wants. She moves through life with all the consciousness of a sparrow. It’s a depressing book, and it has no real resolution.

The book’s length includes an interview with the author, and Slimani reveals that she’s uninterested it why Adele is the way she is. “Adele wants to be a thing,” is about as thoughtful as she gets about her character. The sex scenes, and there are several, are crass and uninteresting. Maybe that’s Slimani’s point: that the sex simply can’t fill the hole in Adele’s soul, but Slimani doesn’t even make the case that it’s the sex that’s the problem, rather than Adele’s vapid regard for it. The sex is a hook to sell the book, and it worked on me, much to my annoyance.

Seriously, if you want to read something like this, go find The Sexual Life of Catherine M.. The eponymous M is a real person, and while she’s as passive and as impulsive as Adele, she had the sense to find a man who would indulge her obsessions and be her chaperone during her encounters. It’s also a much better book.

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