“For in much wisdom is much grief and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow” says Ecclesiastes 1:18. Words, which I have recently discovered, were a tentative title for Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises…
But as Ryan Adams( another tragic crush of mine and playing as we speak) so beautifully put it ‘The Sun Also Sets’ and this dearest readers is where the following comes in…
THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
Could it be any clearer? In case you think Christianity is wrongheaded try the Buddhists-The Second Noble Truth, that man suffers because of desire. We won’t even start on stricter codes, as they tend, even in the modern age to involve some beautiful, young and ‘ruined ‘ woman being stoned to death, or perhaps hanged.
And so it goes. One would be terribly mistaken to think that the scribes who wrote these laws somehow had a vision of sexting in 2014. There is nothing new under the sun, and adultery has been around since the Fall.
And what is the Fall but a thirst for knowledge, to ‘know’ the other in the most intimate sense? As Diane Setterfield put it in The Thirteenth Tale…the problem with knowing is once you know you cannot not know, and it strikes me that this is the central issue when it comes to adultery, you can’t not know this person- ever,-and that can be a wonderful or, more often, a dreadful thing.
Isn’t all this morality just a construct to ensure maximum productivity from economic units and impose social order?
The late Christopher Hitchens expressed it most amusingly when he quipped “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife’s ass” a throw away line, but designed to suggest that the commandments were more about property rights and the rule of law than anything spiritual. But if adultery is in essence knowledge of that which we should not know,what we have no right to know, then for my money Ecclesiastes has it nailed. For that particular kind of knowledge can only ever bring sorrow, some one is going to be hurt. In the first world that tends to mean extended drunkenness, therapy and lots of poor behavior by those who are old enough to know better. On other parts of the planet it could mean death, especially if you are a woman.
And it is in this frame of mind that I approached these two very different books, both of which I’ve been attempting to review for some time. If I find thinking about adultery exhausting committing it must be totally debilitating-where does anyone find the time?
‘Cleo Everest’ is a blogger , a mother and a mountaineer( among many other wonderful things) whose life changed when her husband’s phone inadvertently called her while he was with his long term mistress. The ‘Pocket Call’ changed her life. Once the initial shock wore off Everest took to the blogosphere to help her deal with her husband’s betrayal and HisGiant Mistake was born. The book is essentially all her posts from the first year post-Pocket Call and Everest is clear that it is meant as a handbook, a guide for others trying to navigate their way through heartbreak.
If you have never spent any time visiting Betrayed Spouses blogs, congratulations & I highly recommend never starting. The ether is full of SHE”S A HOMEWRECKER ‘slut shaming ‘sites that make ‘the hell hath no fury’ school of scorned womanhood look eminently reasonable. The really great ones include posts by the Betrayer( most often, but not exclusively, The Husband) reflecting on how it was that some cheap, ugly, fat skank , who was crap in bed came onto him and tried to ruin his life- unsurprisingly it is never his fault. A Year After the Affair penned by Shawn the Wife is my all time favourite. Jesus wept.
HisGiantMistake is nothing like this. Everest is positive, big hearted and determined to make the best of things, infact she didn’t start blogging until she had made her decisions , chosen her path. If you are hurt or in pain because of infidelity( in whichever role) buy this book. Ingest it, chew on it, learn from it. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is, and Everest continues to blog, to share her heart, her journey-which cannot be easy.
Adultery by Paul Coelho is an entirely different creature. Linda, who appears to the outside world to have everything is dead inside and dying a little more every day. If we can allow ourselves to believe that relationships are not about right or wrong that they are simply about what ‘is’, and when that ‘is’ is lost, one can spend a lifetime trying to find it, then we start to understand Linda, while having little sympathy for her.
‘What had our relationship been. A betrayal of those around us or the desire of another life?
‘The desire of another life…’ In Thea’s opinion no one has ever expressed it better than Almasy, Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient. His heroine Catherine also says …
‘It isn’t the morality, it’s how much you can bear.‘
And this of course is the thing, very quickly we find we cannot bear very much at all. Linda is no Catherine Clifton, but she has much more substance, much greater depth than Coelho( of whom I have never been a fan) allows us to believe initially. And this is his achievement here.
What we think is lost can be re discovered, even through the most soul shaking turmoil.This is the gift of both these books, especially His Giant Mistake. Surely we are redeemed in the end by wisdom, by love, albeit it love tinged with grief and sorrow, with reality. The world does not end, we do not end, we go on.