4x4th Estate: Infidelity

4 books about betrayal, brought to you by us at 4th Estate.

‘He talks about you in his sleep

There’s nothing I can do to keep

From crying when he calls your name, Jolene’

 Dolly Parton, Jolene

 Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

The problem of course, is that Franzen creates characters who feel more real to us than the people we know. So watching as infidelity becomes a viable option in Patty and Walter’s decaying relationship is painful. And there is more infidelity – to the promises made in youth, to political systems of belief and to the natural environment. Franzen’s eagerly awaited novel aligns freedom with infidelity and suggests that choosing to be ‘free from’ will not necessarily lead to the Berglund family’s contentment.

 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert narrowly escaped conviction for his frank portrayal of adultery in 19th century France. He famously stated: ‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi’ – and Emma becomes his weapon of rebellion against the stuffy and banal realities of provincial life. Entombed in a marriage to a man she doesn’t love, Emma seeks relief in fiery passages of romance novels, before moving on to a dangerous game of adultery that threatens devastating consequences. A provocative and heartbreaking narrative of desire.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

‘The desire to get married is a basic and primal instinct in women. It’s followed by another basic and primal instinct: the desire to be single again’ so spake Nora Ephron.

But it was her husband’s affair with a close mutual friend during her pregnancy with their second son that inspired her to write Heartburn. A bittersweet tale of the end of a marriage, the subject matter is almost directly autobiographical, and as such, you feel like it is Nora with whom you’re sharing these shattering experiences. The excellent recipes and witty digressions on friendship, parenting and youth and keep it light, and as is always the case with Nora, you’ll be quoting her quippy sound bites for years to come.

 The Awakening by Kate Chopin

If Madame Bovary’s vanity and Hester Prynne’s martyrdom left you cold, may I recommend the languid, New Orleans heat of The Awakening? When Mrs Edna Pontellier falls for a family friend, she is too unsure of her affection being returned to risk voicing her feelings. Yet the discovery of her capacity for love gives Edna a renewed passion for life, and the courage to pursue artistic ambitions. Her genuine desire to find a deeper connection leads her to an indiscretion, but while The Awakening is no less tragic than other tales of infidelity, one senses that Edna’s fate is not driven by guilt or shame, but rather, there being no place for an emancipated woman within the confines of fin de siècle society.

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