Slimani observes [the book's turns] with a coolness that’s almost clinical, even as the feverish spark of obsession licks at the corner of nearly every page. Because Adèle’s appetites, of course, can’t really be sated — they’re as vast and shattering as this fierce, uncanny thunderbolt of a book.
Although the misery is universal, this story is uniquely, and often amusingly, French ... The book would be a lot less fun if Adèle were vaping and knocking back Munchkins like a red-blooded American adulteress ... If the central idea of the book is a fascinating one, the prose is not always impeccable. Dialogue can be flat. Clichés are abundant ... Still, I liked this earlier novel much more than [Slimani's other novel] The Perfect Nanny, which doesn’t have an everyday iconoclast like Adèle...
The opening is unfortunately a harbinger of what ails the rest of this novel. We are expected to believe that a person like Adèle — outwardly successful, with her marriage to a well-to-do surgeon husband, an ascendant career in journalism, adorable children — has an inward void that can only be slaked, temporarily, by random sexual encounters. This dichotomy is meant to be transgressive, all the more for the lack of explanation for Adèle’s extramarital desires. It’s not ... Adèle glides through the narrative on a numb-inducing wave ... Reading Adèle was like being in the middle of a blocking exercise in a play rehearsal. Move her here, move him there, see what happens, if anything happens at all.
... grimly vacant ... It’s challenging to identify what Slimani wanted to do with Adèle, a novel that’s almost as reluctant as its title character to engage in any hard work or deep reflection ... Adèle is a strikingly dull, joyless book ... If Slimani has achieved anything, it’s that she’s written a book that doesn’t even pretend to find pleasure in its heroine’s predilections. Only pain.
The language of the novel, as translated by Sam Taylor, is matter-of-fact, brisk, unadorned – like most of the sex Adèle engages in – and as such it serves the function of taking us through the details of the plot in an unobtrusive way. But we don’t sink into the novel as deeply as we might have if we weren’t always pushed along at the surface level ... It is indeed skilful of Slimani to lead us to reconsider the judgments we make as the complications of her characters’ lives change and are reconfigured.
Slimani has said that she writes about what she fears. In Adèle it is the gaping emptiness under the veneer of a perfect life and the danger and sloppiness of sex. Adèle is a queasy story in which everyone is miserable and unlikable. The protagonist seems to get no pleasure from her addiction; the cycle of her encounters, lies, regrets, and backslides is at first gripping and then becomes, perhaps intentionally, a joyless slog. Adèle’s pathologies are nebulous and her psychology purposely opaque. Her husband, who is besotted with her but uninterested in sleeping with her, comes to seem equally, mysteriously unbalanced. The writing about sex is graphic without being erotic; in fact it is often overwrought or confounding.
Slimani evokes the 'prosaic vulgarity' of these dismal couplings in unsparingly lucid prose, elegantly translated by Sam Taylor. She finds images for Adèle’s howling loneliness in the objects and decor that witness her adventures ... Slimani’s journey through the brambly gardens of lust has affinities with the libertine tradition of French prose ... Slimani, prises open the unspoken faultlines of class and culture that may deepen romantic and marital rifts ... In taut, lithe prose, Slimani’s novel digs for the roots of that sorrow and that fear. Its clarity only deepens its compassion. Yet a sense of mystery abides. Out of that darkness, the 'shadow' behind Adèle, Slimani has made a tender and troubling novel rather than a psychiatric tract.
[The book is] a thriller only if you consider dozens of unsatisfying sexual trysts conducted with all the titillation of a Chia Pet commercial thrilling. Adèle is, at best, an oxymoronically sex-filled dud. At worst, it’s offensively oblivious to the idea that female characters in novels have, in fact, had sex before ... I’ve never been so bored by kinky descriptions of cunnilingus or thrusting hips ... Still worse, Slimani’s prose is a parade of the flat and predictable; nothing is artfully concealed or circumspect.
The standard that readers who loved The Perfect Nanny will hold Adèle to—both the woman and the book—is too high ... Part of the disappointment is in realizing Slimani’s shtick. All she wants is for us to sit with this person for some time—and that’s great—but in Adèle, unlike The Perfect Nanny, this yields diminishing returns ... But then Adèle does have a twist coming. Late in the book—too late—Richard gains a perspective, a stake, before turning to the inevitable. For the reader with some fealty to Slimani’s way, it’s profoundly unsatisfying. But for that persnickety Goodreads reviewer, it’ll work: It delivers that pulpy quality one should never have expected from Slimani in the first place.
For an unsexy book about sex addiction, you can’t do much better than Leïla Slimani’s Adèle ... Slimani’s subject in both of her novels...is women’s freedom – or unfreedom. In many ways Adèle treats this in a more nuanced fashion than Lullaby ... There’s an enviable clarity and forthrightness to Slimani’s writing, both in French and in Sam Taylor’s capable translation ... In both Adèle and Sexe et mensonges, Slimani suggests that women cannot contribute fully to society as long as society maintains itself by controlling their bodies, whether through capitalism or patriarchy ... She upends the notion of monolithic identity in her novels, asserting North Africanness through ambivalence rather than resorting to a Scheherazade-like Orientalism ... In the 19th-century novel, Madame Bovary included, female characters are given two possible outcomes – marriage or death. Slimani’s novel refuses both, choosing instead an ending in which it cannot be said precisely what has happened to Adèle.
With pornographic passages evocative of the poetic erotica of Anaïs Nin, Slimani gives voyeuristic glimpses into Adèle's sexual exploits in terse and lurid prose ... Adèle is a complex and formidable exploration of female sexuality ... Adèle is just as much of an enigma to the reader as she is to her lovers, family and friends.
... lines which read like nihilistic Anaïs Nin with a 50-year lag ... the novel fails to tussle sufficiently with the formulae of feminine ennui, ending up somewhere shy of the wry subversion it could be ... Masterfully taut and entirely gripping, it is easy to see how Slimani matured from this novel, translated by Sam Taylor, to the second which made her so famous and was translated first, The Perfect Nanny.
Adèle joins several grand French traditions. Its clean, affectless prose may recall Camus. (A gifted stylist, Slimani can pack a sneaky wallop when she wants.) ... The best I can say? Adèle is a skillfully turned novel that gives us nothing we expect. Clearly, this is intentional, and clearly, this is brave. It may be an interesting interrogation of those expectations. It’s not a fun read, though, or a world I want to be in. It is a tale of misery. It may tell us most of all about ourselves and the limits of our tolerance.
... a tensely strung, socially provocative character study ... Despite the ostensible clarity of her prose style, meaning often seems to lie tangled up in some undergrowth below the sentences, just out of reach. This lends an interesting flavor to the anxiety-fueled narrative of the novel: heavy on the conventionally dodged present tense, ironically economical with words and sparse with information, and evoking, no doubt intentionally, more questions than it answers. What worked seamlessly in Lullaby works nearly as well in Adèle, which trades the gripping element of public criminality for the exploration of private criminality. Slimani’s style tends to produce the fascinating if disconcerting effect of urging you to believe entirely in what you read, which is only magnified by the sustained sense that Adèle’s thoughts appear totally uncensored, and therefore, totally honest ... Any attempted study of Adèle is disorienting at best, like chasing a shadow of a person who may well be honest and free with her thoughts as you read, but somehow slips out of focus when examined ... while Adèle is not as accessible or as smooth a read as Lullaby, it is a feat in that it charts the variances of human complexity, of disgust and desire, and of total psychological collapse. Adèle is not interested in diagnosis, but it provides a terrifying and painfully intimate portrayal of what it might be like to live inside the head of a woman who is a prisoner to her addiction.
Slimani’s slender, elegantly written and translated novel is filled with such disturbing images, and her capacity to shock will come as little surprise to readers of her previous novel ... But there is nothing that might add up to a thesis; explicit in so many ways, Slimani’s writing... is coy about any greater ambitions it might have. Instead, it reads as if more interested in exploring the possibilities of extremes and reclaiming their potential as literary devices beyond that of mere shock-creation ... Adèle is a tough read, but a bracing one; little concerned with reader-pleasing narrative treats, but provocatively enigmatic.
Artful, edgy ... Slimani’s staccato, present-tense prose fosters agitation and unease, while the narrative’s third-person perspective lends the tale a voyeuristic air. Although some of the secondary characters lack depth, Adèle has it in spades; singularly unlikable but eminently relatable, her actions are considered taboo, but the ennui and anxiety from which they stem are universal. The book’s denouement may frustrate readers—but then, that rather seems the point ... an unflinching exploration of female self-sacrifice and the elusive nature of satisfaction.
Fascinating ... Though some readers might feel the novel waits too long to explore why its protagonist feels compelled to behave the way she does, this is nevertheless a skillful character study. Slimani’s ending is the perfect conclusion to this memorable snapshot of sex addiction.