The Adulterants follows an adolescent thirty-something as he makes a series of poor life decisions during his wife’s third trimester. ‘I was building a case for myself as a father,’ Ray explains as he flirts with other women, then gets punched in the face, prosecuted, kicked out of his flat and publicly shamed.
Joe Dunthorne’s books examine the anxious rites of passage one must endure to reach adulthood. Submarine was about a fifteen-year-old desperate to lose his virginity. In Wild Abandon, a brother and sister dream of escaping their parents’ hippy commune. The Adulterants is another skewed coming-of-age tale, concerned with one of the most significant rites of all: having a child of one’s own and, hopefully, providing a reasonable foundation for its thriving.
The novel opens at a house party. Bored, Ray sits on the toilet texting his pregnant wife, Garthene. The rooms are full of people coming to terms with being in their thirties. They still go to house parties at Marie’s and inhale nitrous oxide balloons, only now Marie is the co-director of a qualitative research company and the house is her first step on the property ladder. ‘Drink more,’ Garthene texts back. He does and ends up in bed with Marie.
Ray and Garthene are desperate for their own home too. Urban cohabitation might have worked in their twenties, but now they have a child on the way. After learning that their ‘asking-price offer on a horrible maisonette beyond the Leabridge roundabout’ has been rejected, Ray imagines his future children drowning