The Adulterous Woman by Albert Camus, 1957
The magic trick:
Elevating the story’s ideas with two excellently descriptive scenes
We have a pair of French stories for you this weekend. Today’s features a married couple in Algeria. It’s the story of the woman’s quest for freedom, for happiness, for something more satisfying than her current state.
The writing is excellent. Two descriptions stand out as essential. The first is the opening scene on a bus. We see the woman looking at her husband with utter disgust – every tiny habit of his presented as slovenly. The second comes near the end of the story, as the woman nears some kind of enlightenment through engaging with the vast expanse of the desert.
As ideas, they probably sound fine. But written so vividly as they are here? The ideas become feeling and the feelings become art.
And that’s quite a trick on Camus’s part.
Janine looked at her husband. With wisps of graying hair growing low on a narrow forehead, a broad nose, a flabby mouth, Marcel looked like a pouting faun. At each hollow in the pavement she felt him jostle against her. Then his heavy torso would slump back on his widespread legs and he would become inert again and absent, with vacant stare. Nothing about him seemed active but his thick hairless hands, made even shorter by the flannel underwear extending below his cuffs and covering his wrists. His hands were holding so tight to a little canvas suitcase set between his knees that they appeared not to feel the fly’s halting progress.
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