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The Adultery Handbook

by Carol Malyon

Anybody who buys Carol Malyon’s The Adultery Handbook thinking that it might be something like Helen Fielding’s The Diary of Bridget Jones is going to be sorely disappointed. Instead of the flip, hip, funny guide to illicit romance that the title suggests, this book is a serious, self-consciously literary exploration of several women and their unhappy love lives.

The book opens with a gerund-rich account of Gladys looking for the right cemetery in which to bury her aging mother, a section that pretty much sets the tone for the book. “Momma never marrying. My daddy getting her pregnant, then taking off. Forty-six years go past but she doesn’t forget.”

It turns out that this first-person section is what Gladys wrote in the creative writing class given by a woman named Shelley in a Toronto drop-in centre for women. All eight women in the group have sad stories, which we learn about through the writing they do for the seminar.

This framework, however, is not clear until nearly halfway through the book. By then we’ve followed Shelley through her doomed affair with Norman, who is married to someone else (natch!) and has a little daughter whom he loves greatly. Shelley moves to Toronto after Norman confesses to this double life. There she finds work through a temp service, and starts the writing group on a whim.

Malyon is a writer of some accomplishment: If I Knew I’d Tell You was shortlisted for the Smithbooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and she has published seven books in all. Here, she experiments with various voices as she presents the women’s stories, and at times sounds a bit like Gail Scott and Diane Schoemperlen.


Reviewer: Mary Soderstrom

Publisher: The Mercury Press


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 218 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55128-074-4

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1999-11

Categories: Fiction: Novels

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