French author Agnés Riva’s new novel, Geography Of An Adultery, traces an extramarital affair through the locations outside Paris where the man (Paul) and woman (Ema) meet up: his car, her kitchen and entryway, a remote church, a hotel. These locations limn the physical boundaries of their relationship, highlighting the lack of freedom they have to be together, but the emotional limitations they face ultimately doom the secret pair. The book, which is told through Ema’s eyes, is a detailed account of her dissatisfaction with their situation and its ultimate futility.
Why I picked it up: I was offered a review copy of Geography Of An Adultery by Other Press.
Paul and Ema’s relationship is doomed from the start of the book, and watching it play out in the various physical locations is like watching a slow motion trainwreck. Ema tries every way she can to get what she wants – true emotional and passionate connection – from Paul, but she is always frustrated. She ignores him, she pushes him to take risks that could reveal their relationship, she stalks him, she guilts him into getting them a hotel room. She even comes right out and asks him if she is his soul mate. And yet, he never gives her the answers or the attention she seeks. The circumstances of their relationship are clearly a hindrance to her happiness, but the real weakness is Paul. He will never be the man that she wants him to be. He’s not going to throw caution to the wind, express his undying love, and lure her from her marriage. (And even if he were, she’s not even sure she wants to leave it. Maybe she just wants the pain and longing,)
Geography Of An Adultery is an interesting and eloquent depiction of the tensions Ema and Paul experience and the impossibility of a positive outcome for either person. The conceit of the location theme is creative, but ultimately I was more interested in what transpired between the two characters than the places where it transpired. I received a letter from Other Press’ publisher calling the book “simply hilarious”. I wouldn’t call it hilarious (though I appreciate that Riva clearly had some fun at her characters’ expense), but instead found it sad. All that energy, all those emotions – for nothing, in the end.
Geography Of An Adultery was the 9th book of 2022 and satisfies the Debut Novel and Translation From Another Language categories of the 2022 Everyday I Write The Book Reading Challenge.