“Adèle”

Adele 01.jpg

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Leila Slimani’s debut novel, first published in France in 2014, translated by Sam Taylor and released in English in 2019. I read a Penguin Books paperback.

Buy the Book.

3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Adèle craves sexual encounters – the more impersonal, the better – but knows her secret will tear her from her husband and son.

Though The Perfect Nanny was Slimani’s first novel published in English, Adèle was Slimani’s debut. Also, like The Perfect Nanny, the title has been changed in translation. In this case, it makes a little more sense. The original title, Dans le jardin de l’ogre translates to In the Garden of the Ogre, a line that is echoed on page 2 (She wants to be a doll in an ogre’s garden). I can see how publishers would think this sounds like a horror or fantasy novel and calling the text Adèle reflects the obsession the story has for its main character. Even when the narrative includes her husband, Richard’s, point of view, his world is consumed by thoughts of Adèle.

From the start, I’m on Adèle’s side and wholly invested in her while never understanding her compulsions. Strangely, we follow Adèle’s perspective until, on page 141 (out of 216), we begin switching back and forth between her and Richard – who I definitely never like. If we are ever supposed to sympathize with him it doesn’t work, likely because his perspective shows up so late in the narrative.

I love how Slimani writes women who feel conflicted in roles of wife and mother and caretaker, who do not take to it naturally, who balk against expectation, who may not know what they want but know what they don’t want.


[1] References: Opening quote by Anna Akhmatova, Requiem:

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) was one of the most significant Russian poets of the 20th century. She was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in 1965 and received second-most (three) nominations for the award the following year. Her work was condemned and censored by Stalinst authorities and she is notable for choosing not to emigrate, and remaining in Russia, acting as witness to the events around her.

Requiem is an elegy by Akhmatova about suffering of people under the Great Purge. It was written over three decades, between 1935 and 1961.

[2] References:

She has run (…) from Pigalle to the Champs-Elysees, from the Musee d’Orsay to Bercy.

(p.1)

 

The Musee d’Orsay is a museum in Paris, on the Left Bank of the Seine that opened in 1986. It is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mostly French art dating from 1848 to 1914.

Bercy is a neighborhood in the 12th arrondissement of Paris.

[3]

Wanting to is the same as giving in. The dam has been breached. What good would it do to hold back now?

(p.3)

[4]

For a long time she stayed at home and waited for her destiny to reveal itself. Nothing went according to plan.

(p.8)

[5] References:

Adèle and her colleagues enter a dirty little brasserie and, as always, Bertrand says, a bit too loud: “We weren’t supposed to come back here, remember? The owner’s in the National Front.”

(p.10)

 

A brasserie is an informal restaurant, especially one in France or modeled on a French one and with a large selection of drinks.

The National Rally (RN), until June 2018 known as the National Front (FN), is a right-wing populist and nationalist political party in France.

[6] Reference:

She bought a dry, cold pain au chocolat at the worst bakery in the neighborhood.

(p.19)

 

Pain au chocolat, literally chocolate bread; also known as chocolatine in the south-west part of France and in Canada, is a type of viennoiserie sweet roll consisting of a cuboid-shaped piece of yeast-leavened laminated dough, similar in texture to a puff pastry, with one or two pieces of dark chocolate in the center. Pain au chocolat is made of the same layered doughs as a croissant. They are often sold still hot or warm from the oven.

[7] Reference:

“Do you get the names of the whores you fuck when you’re in Kinshasa?”

(p.20)

 

Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville) is the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The city is situated alongside the Congo River. Kinshasa is Africa’s third-largest urban area after Cairo and Lagos. As of 2017, the population was nearly 12 million.

[8] Reference:

Lucien looks like his father. The same fire blond hair, the same calisson-shaped mouth.

(p.25)

 

Calissons are a traditional French candy consisting of a smooth, pale yellow, homogeneous paste of candied fruit (especially melons and oranges) and ground almonds topped with a thin layer of royal icing. Calissons are often almond-shaped and are typically about two inches in length.

[9]

They walk quickly along the street, side by side. They don’t touch. They rarely kiss. Their bodies have nothing to say to each other. They have never felt any attraction or even tenderness for each other, and in a way this absence of carnal complicity is reassuring.

(p.33)

[10] Reference:

On the runway at Villacoublay, where a government airplane was waiting for them.

(p.37)

 

Velizy-Villacoublay Air Base is a French Air Force (ALA) base. The base is located approximately 2 miles southeast of Velizy-Villacoublay; about 8 miles southwest of Paris.

[11] Reference:

On the first night, in Bamako, she slept with the bodyguard.

(p.38)

 

Bamako is the capital and largest city of Mali, with a population of over 2 million. In 2006, it was estimated to be the fastest-growing city in Africa and sixth-fastest in the world. It is located on the Niger River. The name Bamako comes from the Bambara word meaning “crocodile tail.”

[12] References:

On the terrace of the seaside hotel in Praia, she ordered a caipirinha.

(p.38)

 

Praia is a municipality of Cape Verde. It is situated in the southern part of the island of Santiago (not the Santiago in Chile). Its area is 46.6 square miles and its population was 131,719 at the 2010 census.

Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaca (sugarcane hard liquor), sugar, and lime.

[13] Reference:

She likes Lauren’s pictures, taken in the scrublands of Abidjan and Libreville.

(p.41)

 

Abidjan is the economic capital of Ivory Coast and one of the most populous French-speaking cities in Africa. According to the 2014 census, Abidjan’s population was 4.7 million.

[14]

Adèle hates him for his naivete, which persecutes her, which deepens her sin and makes her even more despicable.

(p.45)

[15]

These women are nothing. She does not even feel any desire to impress them. It is killing her to have to sit here and listen to them.

(p.53)

[16] Reference:

“We’ll be traveling to Lisieux next year.”

(p.55)

 

Lisieux is a commune in the Calvados department in the Normandy region in northwestern French. It is about 2.5 hours (driving) from Paris.

[17] Though I’m never on Richard’s side, he has some valid points:

“I don’t know why you feel the need to behave like that. To get drunk. To talk down to people as though you alone understand the mysteries of the world and we are just a bunch of moronic sheep. You know, you’re just as ordinary as we are, Adèle.”

(p.56-57)

[18] Reference:

Every year they spend Christmas in Caen with the Robinson family.

(p.63)

 

Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department. The city proper has 108,365 inhabitants (as of 2012), while its urban area has 420,000, making Caen the largest city in former Lower Normandy.

[19] Translate:

Par contre is incorrect. You should say en revanche.”

(p.66)

Both phrases are ways of saying “on the other hand” in French. From ThoughtCo:

Expression: Par contre (…)

Meaning: on the other hand, whereas, but

Literal translation: by against (…)

Explanation

The French expression par contre is used to contrast two statements. (…)

French grammarians and dictionaries have argued about par contre for hundreds of years. All but purists now generally agree that par contre is acceptable when there is a clear contrast between two ideas and the second one is negative (….) However, they take a lesser view of par contre when it introduces a second statement which supports, compensates for, or adds information to the first. Many French speakers use par contre in this way, but generally speaking, it’s better to reserve it for negative meanings, and instead use en revanche when the meaning is positive or neutral.

[20]

She is scared. Someone might enter, someone she doesn’t know, someone who wants to hurt her. She forces herself not to look at her watch. She does not take her cell from her pocket. Nothing ever happens fast enough.

(p.97)

[21]

A dress lies sleeping on the arm of the living-room sofa.

(p.117)

[22] Reference:

“You know Ben Ali was deposed while you were playing doctors and nurses?”

(p.127)

 

Zine El Abindine Ben Ali (b.1936), commonly known as Ben Ali, is a Tunisian former politician who served as President of Tunisia from 1987 until his ousting in 2011. In January 2011, following a month of protests against his rule, he was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife and their three children. A Tunisian court sentenced Ben Ali and his wife in absentia to 35 years in prison in June 2011 on charges of theft and unlawful possession of cash and jewelry. In June 2012, a Tunisian court sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment for inciting violence and murder and another life sentence by a military court in April 2013 for violent repression of protests in Sfax (a city in Tunisia).

[23] References:

Now the images show Tahrir Square in flames (…). On February 11, at 5:03p.m., Vice President Suleiman announces the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

(p.128)

 

The Egyptian revolution of 2011, also known as the January 25 Revolution, started on January 25, 2011 and spread across Egypt. The date was set by various youth groups to coincide with the annual Egyptian “Police holiday” as a statement against increasing police brutality during the last few years of Mubarak’s presidency. At least 846 people were killed and over 6,000 injured.

Tahrir Square, also known as “Martyr Square”, is a major public town square in downtown Cairo. The square has been the location and focus for political demonstrations in Cairo, most notably those that led to the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Omar Mahmoud Suleiman (1936-2012) was an Egyptian army general, politician, diplomat, and intelligence officer. A leading figure in Egypt’s intelligence system beginning in 1986, Suleiman was appointed to the long-vacant Vice Presidency by President Hosni Mubarak on January 29, 2011. On February 11, 2011, Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation and ceased being Vice President; governing power was transferred to the Armed Forces Supreme Council, of which Suleiman was not a member. On July 19, 2012, it was announced that Suleiman had died at Cleveland Clinic (Ohio) while undergoing medical testing for an unknown problem.

Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak (b.1928) is a former Egyptian military and political leader who served as the fourth President of Egypt from 1981 to 2011. On June 2, 2012 an Egyptian court sentence Mubarak to life in prison. On January 13, 2013, Egypt’s Court of Cassation (the nation’s high court of appeal) overturned Mubarak’s sentence and ordered a retrial. He was acquitted on March 2, 2017 by Court of Cassation. He was released on March 24, 2017.

[24] Reference:

She can hear voices speaking Arabic, Serbian, Wolof, Chinese.

(p.132)

 

Wolof is a language of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania, and the native language of the Wolof people.

The Wolof people are a West African ethnic group found in northwestern Senegal, The Gambia and southwestern coastal Mauritania.

[25] Reference/Translate:

She hears the man behind her grumble and sigh.

Hchouma.”

(p.133)

From stepfeed.com’s article “20 Arabic words that are now French slang” by Alya Kay (November 24, 2016):

Hchouma

Comes from “hechma” meaning “embarrassing.” Cool kids generally use it as “oh la hchouma!”

[26]

She is in pain and vaguely ashamed but she laughs, like a fountain spurting jets of icy water.

(p.139)

[27]

Talking makes things irreversible.

(p.172)

[28]

Simone has always had a horror of the countryside, probably because she grew up in it.

(p.183)

[29]

Adèle’s fingernails scratch the cloth armrest of the chair. Outside, black clouds flaunt their pointed nipples. The storm will soon break.

(p.188)

[30]

“My father died.” (…)

“Does that make you sad?”

“I don’t know. He never really liked being here.”

(p.188)

[31]

His mysteriousness was at the root of her adoration.

(p.194)

[32] Reference:

She saw him lift one foot in the air and pirouette on the point of the other foot to Nat King Cole’s “Ballerina.”

(p.195)

 

Ballerina” is a popular song, sometimes known as “Dance, Ballerina, Dance”. The song was written by Carl Sigman with lyrics by Sidney Keith “Bob” Russell. It was published in 1947. Nat King Cole recorded a version which reached #18 in 1957.

[33]

The cruelty of those who know they are loved.

(p.199)

[34] Reference:

She likes this song. “You give your hand to me… (…) Well, you don’t know me…”

(p.209)

 

You Don’t Know Me” is a song written by Cindy Walker based on a title and storyline given to her by Eddy Arnold in 1955. “You Don’t Know Me” was first recorded by Arnold that year and released as a single in April 1956. The first version of the song to make the Billboard charts was by Jerry Vale in 1956, peaking at #14 on the pop chart.

More recent versions have been recorded by Michael Buble (2005) and Harry Connick Jr (2004) among many others.


Adèle is recommended if you liked The Perfect Nanny or are a fan of stories that ruminate on a character. There are graphic sexual scenes but they don’t feel exploitative or an attempt to shock; they make sense in the story and help us see the world as Adèle is seeing it.

I love Slimani’s style (and Sam Taylor’s translations of her work) and hope to read more of her work.

Next Friday, another dark sexual tale with Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke.

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