One of my goals this year was to read more books that are lesser known. I don’t always read the books that are surrounded by a lot of hype. But there are so many books out there the might be something amazing and we’re all missing out because no one’s talking about them. The cover of Joe Dunthorne’s The Adulterants caught my eye one day. I’m not even sure how I came across it (I read an ebook copy, so it wasn’t in a bookstore), and I decided to give it a shot. It’s less than two-hundred pages, so I figured it would be a quick read.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) Ray Morris is a tech journalist with a forgettable face, a tiresome manner, a small but dedicated group of friends, and a wife, Garthene, who is pregnant. He is a man who has never been punched above the neck. He has never committed adultery with his actual body. He has never been caught up in a riot, nor arrested, nor tagged by the state, nor become an international hate-figure. Not until the summer of 2011, when discontent is rising on the streets and within his marriage. Ray has noticed none of this. Not yet.
The Adulterants would be a coming-of-age story if its protagonist could only forget that he is thirty-three years old. Throughout a series of escalating catastrophes, our deadpan antihero keeps up a merciless mental commentary on the foibles and failings of those around him, and the vicissitudes of modern urban life: internet trolls, buy-to-let landlords, open marriages, and the threat posed by more sensitive men. But the wonder of The Adulterants is how we feel ourselves rooting for Ray even as we acknowledge that he deserves everything he gets.
The Adulterants clocks in at one-hundred and fifty pages. Short enough to be called a novella. And, yet, it took me over a month to slog my way through this book. What should have been an afternoon read was weeks of asking myself why I insisted on finishing this book until I ended up skimming the second half just to be done with it. (What can I say? I’m a stubborn reader.)
Needless to say, I didn’t like this book. My main issue is that I hated every single one of the characters. And not in the way where it adds to the story (i.e. Joffrey Baratheon or Dolores Umbridge). They’re not psychopaths or serial killers – which would have at least been interesting – they’re just really sucky people. They’re selfish and vain and manipulative (but not in an intelligent way) and I just couldn’t stand them.
One other thing that drove me crazy: the author picked an unusual name for the main character’s wife: Garthene. Which is fine, I mean, we’ve all encountered unusual names. But he couldn’t stop talking about it for the entire book. Which came off as really pretentious. It was like he wanted to say “hey, look at this weird name I found”. It was obnoxious and unnecessary and I hated it.
This is a highly character-driven novel, which means the plot couldn’t save the awful characters. I didn’t care what happened to them because they brought it on themselves. I still genuinely can’t believe this book was so short (since I read the ebook, I didn’t have a great sense of the length) because so much awful stuff was crammed into this book. When I look back at this book, at best, I just feel annoyed. I hope the point of it was “look how terrible normal people can be”, but even if that’s true, I really didn’t enjoy reading about it.
★☆☆☆☆ – Obviously, I didn’t like The Adulterants. If I’m going to read about other people’s problems, they have to be people I like. And these characters were not even a little likeable.
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