Joe Dunthorne’s The Adulterants is a sort of anti-coming-of-age-story; a comedy of errors about a thirty-something Londoner on the cusp of full-blown adulthood, but whose adolescent-minded cluster of ill-decisions sends his life on a desperately downward spiral.
A slim novel just shy of 200 pages, The Adulterants introduces us to Ray, presented as the typical everyman — he loves and loathes his friends in equal measure, bemoans the price of houses just like the rest of us, and is a little tired of his career as a tech journalist — who we meet just as he’s in the midst of almost cheating on his heavily pregnant wife; just the first in a long, loooong line of terrible decisions, which Ray is adamant he is not at fault for; rather, he’s the victim of societal pressures, circumstance, and the people in his life. From Ray’s point of view, all mistakes can be traced back to everything and anything but himself.
There are several laugh moments, including Ray’s encounter with a policewoman, when every word he utters exacerbates his quandary. But this isn’t a slapstick comedy; it’s top-notch satire, moments of comedic gold coupled with insight and poignancy. This is the story of a man plagued with insecurities about every facet of his life, who lacks the maturity and inclination to reorient his priorities. His uncanny knack for self-sabotage is both hilarious and heartbreaking; Ray is equally empathetic and deplorable. The line between the two is a constant blur.
The Adulterants is an infectious read. I galloped through its pages, marvelled at its insights, guffawed at Ray’s shallow, infantile, narcissist tendencies.