Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Book Review: Acts of Infidelity

By Jami Deise

Although “I’ll have what she’s having” is the most-quoted line from the movie When Harry Met Sally, Sally’s exchange with her best friend Marie over Marie’s married lover Arthur is also often recited: “I don’t think he’s ever going to leave her.” “No one thinks he’s going to leave her!” Luckily for Marie, she meets Jess and moves in with him mere months later; Arthur is never mentioned again. Other women aren’t so lucky. Ask an older single woman about her life, chances are a married man strung her along for years, sucking up her time and energy with vague promises until it was too late to meet someone else.

In Acts of Infidelity, Swedish writer Ester Nilsson sets herself down that unlucky path. When actor Olof Sten is cast in a play she wrote, Ester immediately becomes smitten through their banter and chemistry. The two begin an affair, and Ester convinces herself that Olof is just about to leave his wife Ebba, despite all the signs to the contrary.

Written by Stockholm author Lena Andersson and translated by Saskia Vogel, Acts of Infidelity is told in third person, but readers have an up-close and personal look at the mental acrobatics Ester goes through to convince herself that Olof loves her. It’s painful to watch, as Olof treats Ester casually and cruelly, only to wheel her back in with attention and affection just as she seems to come to her senses. It’s a game that continues for years.

Although the novel lacks a firm three-act structure, the reader is compelled to keep turning pages by wondering when the hell Ester is going to wise up. Near the end, though, I did start to get a little bored – and I imagined Ester’s poor friends feeling the same way, having to listen to the same stories for years and watch as Ester ignored their advice again and again.

With the book’s Swedish characters and author, I read it looking for the difference between Swedish and American values and attitudes about infidelity, but I found none. Ester and Olof easily could be transferred to New York, and their story would be the same. The dialogue would be different, though – all the characters spoke in long, extremely detailed and complex paragraphs that sounded forced to my American ears.

All women, at one time or another, have had a friend like Ester or have been Ester ourselves – even unmarried men like to play games to keep women at a distance. If you have a friend caught in this trap, give her a copy of Acts of Infidelity. The spark of recognition may ignite the fire she needs to leave.

Thanks to Other Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Also by Lena Andersson:

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