Simon & Schuster
2014 (originally 2010 Hodder & Stoughton), 369p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS
Angelica is happily married to the handsome, dashing Frenchman Olivier. Together they have two children, Joe and Isabel. They have a beautiful home and a close circle of wonderful friends. Olivier works in The City and Angelica writes children’s fantasy novels. She has everything she could ever want but as the years tick by, Angelica has felt her husband’s passion turn to criticism. He’s demanding and sometimes difficult, expecting to be pampered and coddled after a long day at the office. Angelica sometimes longs for him to look at her the way he used, to. Before the children and the few extra pounds.
At a dinner party she is seated next to Jack, a charismatic South African who makes her feel beautiful again. He’s attentive and complimentary and the sparks between them are obvious to them both. A few witty emails turn into lunch which turns into more. A chance business trip to South Africa means that Angelica can see Jack in his own environment.
Even though both are married, it seems that neither of them can deny themselves. In the savage beauty of South Africa, Angelica will experience the heady highs of love and the devastating lows of crime…and the discovery of a terrible and heartbreaking secret that Jack has been keeping from her.
It’s interesting, I don’t usually want to read novels that deal with infidelity. I’ve read one Santa Montefiore book before and enjoyed it so I requested this bind-up of two of her titles and The Affair is the first one. Given the title, it’s sort of obvious where the story is going to go and I was curious to see how I would feel about it and how it would all play out.
It’s kind of hard to identify with the characters in this novel – they’re all unspeakably rich. I’m talking London terraces with holiday homes in luxurious locations, live in help, drivers and children in expensive private schools. Angelica is the main character and she’s part of a tightknit group with several other women and their husbands. The husbands rarely play a role in the novel with the exception of Angelica’s own husband Olivier but even his role is rather insignificant most of the time.
Montefiore takes time to paint Olivier in a negative light in the beginning of the book. He speaks thoughtlessly to Angelica, comes across as demanding and also hypocritical. He enjoys a good flirt but doesn’t believe it’s as innocent for women it is for men. Angelica is feeling rather disillusioned, longing for the days where he couldn’t keep his hands off her and made her feel special and beautiful. They’ve been together for over a decade and she feels that he doesn’t particularly appreciate or respect her. He works a demanding, very high paid job but Angelica does contribute income with the publishing of her children’s novels. Olivier seems dismissive of her career, feeling as though her first priority should be taking care of him and their children, a fact that is reinforced by his French mother who fusses and indulges him and doesn’t understand why Angelica works when she should be devoting herself to the needs of her husband. Olivier, for an intelligent man, often acts rather ridiculously, carrying on like a small sulky child when he has a sore throat. However, all of these little moments can be part of what makes up a marriage and at times it feels as though there’s too much of an attempt to paint Olivier negatively in the beginning and then redeem him later on as he comes to realise that he has indeed become complacent and unappreciative.
I understand Angelia’s need to still feel attractive and appreciated and I can also understand the way that a good and harmless flirt with an attractive person can make you feel. But then there’s temptation and putting yourself in its path and that’s what Angelica does. She resolves many times not to see Jack. But then: it was just a conversation, she tells herself. And then it’s just a few emails, nothing wrong with that. And it’s just lunch with a friend, I’m not doing anything wrong, she tells herself over, and over. But the thing is, she lies about where she is and what she’s doing and who Jack is and she doesn’t tell Olivier what she’s doing. Which does make it wrong. She’s indulging in an emotional affair long before it ever becomes a physical affair. But I will say for Santa Montefiore that the evolution of it felt very natural. Frighteningly natural, actually. How this attraction became a real friendship which became the basis for something else entirely. Jack and Angelica fit well together, he’s interested in her as a person, her likes and dreams, her career and choices. I didn’t always warm to Jack, he came across as deep and philosophical and I think he was supposed to be “charmingly offhand” about being the whole dog off the porch thing but I didn’t find it charming. But I could see what Angelica needed and so could Jack. For most of the book it seems that Olivier is too concerned about the impending global financial crisis and perhaps too complacent in his marriage to see where she’s truly at personally. Familiarity can be a dangerous thing – couples get too comfortable with each other and they become bored. Feel lonely and unappreciated. And that’s when vulnerability to flattery and attention can appear and Angelica seems ripe for it.
I didn’t guess Jack’s secret, nor did I expect it but I do feel as though it did serve to make things “easier” for Angelica because it takes away either of them having to make a choice. In some ways it provides a way out, the “perfect” affair even though it also causes her much personal grief. She never really has to deal with the consequences of her actions other than with herself, which to some would be satisfactory but I sort of feel a bit sorry for oblivious partners. Olivier is at times, a bit of a thoughtless jerk but is that justification to seek a relationship outside of the marriage? I don’t really think so.
Nevertheless I did enjoy this story, it’s a very interesting look at marriage.
Book #254 of 2014