Eliette Abécassis ‘Une Affaire Conjugale’

‘Don’t get mad get even’ I was sometimes told as a youth, French writer Eliette Abécassis went through a divorce and then channeled her experience and imagefrustrations into this emotionaly charged novel and I hope for her that her real life divorce was less toxic than this breakdown of the relationship between Agathe and Jérôme Portal, this realisation of just who the former partner really is followed by the slow descent into isolation and fear lived by Agathe. If her real life husband was like Jérôme then this powerful novel laying facets of him open for all to see goes some way to getting even!

I listened to this novel, not yet translated into English, as an audio book and found myself wishing my daily commute was longer as I waited impatiently for my next episode.

The male point of view of an acrimonious divorce has been presented in several works, not the least of which was Kramer vs Kramer, Abécassis chooses to present us a view from the female side, which could be interpreted as bitter and unjust, but the whole point is that this is a partial view seen through the eyes of an isolated and insecure wife going through hell. Although narcissistic perverts are a very particular behavioural case, I have met some, I don’t think needed to be one here, the female view point was I believe strong enough alone. The story is further enhanced by the role of modern technology in the surveillance of one’s partner. We all leave a virtual trace behind us everyday, E-mails, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Dating websites, Porn sites etc. All of which can be accessed to help the lawyers put together the partner’s profile.

In this book, Agathe unexpectedly learns of her husband’s hatred for her as he accidentally pocket dials her and then when she discovers that he has had girlfriends at their flat whilst she was out she decides to ask for a divorce, and this is when the real subject of the book begins.

‘To get things right, you’d need to start by divorcing and then get married. You don’t know your partner when you make love. You don’t know him when you have a child with him! All that leads you down the false route of life and not of that of knowledge. No, the only true way to know your partner is to divorce him. Then you get to fully learn of his human, psychological and moral qualities, you have access to his true essence. Before, I thought I knew my husband’***

The procedural side of the novel, explaining that they needed to keep living under the same roof until the divorce was announced even in this particular case of extreme hatred and danger so as not to endanger the guard of the children, was particularly chilling.

Agathe is a financially independent woman who does not realise until the divorce proceedings that her husband had never invested any money in their marriage. (he ran a start up which never made a profit) It is supposed, but never exploited, that he has been stashing money away in Switzerland. This is one of many cases of Agathe waking up to what was really happening in her marriage and asking herself how could she have been so naive.

First published in French as Une Affaire Conjugale by Albin Michel in 2010
***My translation

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