More articles by

Anjuly Mathai
Anjuly Mathai


An affair to remember

  • madame bovary
    Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert

A recent book on infidelity makes you wonder why it is such a popular theme with writers.

A new book, How Can I Ever Trust You Again by Andrew G. Marshall, gives a new spin to an age-old theme—infidelity. It is one of the most traumatic experiences in life but can one recover from the trauma? Is it possible to save a marriage in which one or both the partners are cheating on their spouses? Why are some couples able to do so while others fail? These are the questions Marshall addresses in his book which is written in a compassionate and objective manner. In a society where infidelity is increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception, it is important to know how to cope with it because, let’s admit it, you or I could be its next victim.

In his book, Marshall outlines eight kinds of affairs the knowledge of which can help you decide whether you should stay in the marriage or not. Some of them include the accidental affair where the spouse says he didn’t mean to have an affair; the self-medication affair where the affair is trying to address a long-term problem in the relationship; the tripod affair where the husband or wife lives with a mistress or lover often with the partner’s knowledge; and the retaliatory affair where the husband or wife has a dalliance simply to get even with his or her cheating partner. Once you understand what kind of affair your spouse is having, Marshall argues, nine of out ten times it becomes clear how you should deal with it.

Marshall is only one among a slew of non-fiction writers, many of whom have been working as marital counsellors for years, who have written about infidelity. One of the most famous books dealing with this theme is The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck in which he helps you understand how to strengthen the foundation on which your marriage is built.

But perhaps infidelity is addressed in a more compelling manner in fiction rather than non-fiction. The difference is that, while non-fiction is designed to help you overcome the ordeal, fiction merely lays bare the truth of it without offering any solutions. Some of my favourite books dealing with this theme include Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and_ The End of the Affair_ by Graham Greene.

I read an English translation of Madame Bovary in a dusty college library and was shocked by the brazenness of the protagonist and the violence of her passion. It was perhaps the first time I questioned my sense of morality.

Right and wrong have no clear boundaries in this book and the beauty of it is that the writer doesn’t pass judgment on the actions of his heroine. This is the human condition, he seems to say, and it is neither to be condemned nor condoned. The End of the Affair left me with a sense of incompletion. Maurice Bendrix’s frustration at not knowing the reason why Sarah chose to end the affair was shared by me. I saw it as a failure on the part of the writer at that time but now I see it as a triumph—the ability to expose the ambiguity in truth.

But Anna Karenina touched me the most. Perhaps it was not possible for me to identify with Anna’s pain, not having experienced it myself, but it was possible for me to empathise with it. It is Tolstoy’s genius that makes the emotional landscape in Anna’s mind come alive. And therein lies the greatness of a writer: to let the characters roam around in the wilderness of his words, to let them indulge in escapades and affairs, without bending them to his will or his wishes.

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