The Organised Author

The Adulteries of Rachel

The Adulteries of Rachel by H. J. Hewett
Five stars for this clever book.
Rachel, married and mother of a little girl, meets her former lover, Matthew, after a chance meeting. Handsome and charming, Matthew is now a successful writer. The attraction between them flares again, and Rachel soon wonders if she should let temptation win and cheat on her husband.
Through Matthew’s conferences and the story of his latest novel, The Physicist’s Wife, the author recounts the history of women’s adultery—what was considered adultery, what kind of punishments women across the centuries had to suffer for their cheating, and the social consequences of infidelity. From Arthurian legends, to Tristan and Isolde, to Greek mythology and modern times, the author explores every aspect of female adultery. I particularly loved the story about the scientist Feynman and the love letters he wrote to his dead wife. Very touching.
This novel reminds me of an adult version of Sophie’s World.
Also, a cat named Marmalade.
Interview with the author

Hello Heidi!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions.
1.       Which was the biggest challenge of writing The Adulteries of Rachel?
The Adulteries of Rachel was my second book to come out, but I wrote it first, over several years, when my first child was very young. I had written a lot of academic papers up until then, but I had not written fiction since I was a teen, and it was my first real attempt, and it didn’t come out like the finished copy. Endless revision, adding and subtracting. I struggled to make it more accessible, more universal, and always, always to add complexity. I kept imagining asking my book club “Why does Rachel consider committing adultery?” and if, in my head, any of them could give a pat answer, I’d try to weight the other side of the balance. Someone once said to me, “So, it’s like readers can pick the Variation they want,’ but the whole object is destabilization, everything in the book is simultaneously both true and false because the variations only exist as inconclusive possibilities.

2.       In the novel, there isn’t a villain, but I’d say that the villain is the society and its rules. What is the main issue that women have to deal with in today’s society? Lack of freedom? Prejudices? Inequality?
I’ve tried to be sensitive to the uniqueness of women’s challenges—I really can only speak to my heartache, at the time, which is that I had made a series of life choices in order to be a stay-at-home mother, expecting a snuggly cocoon of warm love flowing back and forth, and feeling dead inside. I was never alone, and yet I felt desperately lonely. It was a ghastly realization, and one I didn’t feel I could admit—one that I felt must be my fault, but had no idea how to fix. In the book, I call this ‘the minority report’ of motherhood. I feel like collectively we do a disservice to young women in reinforcing an image of motherhood, or marriage, as fulfilment, and the various ways we praise the self-sacrifice of women in caretaking roles. I was adamant I didn’t want any character to speak for me, but between Grace and Dr. Takano, a lot of my ideas wormed their way into the book.

3.       How much research did you do for this book?
The hardest part was the physics! I’m an academic by training, with a background in Classics and Literature, and that part came easily, but I did a lot of research on entangled particles, Schrodinger’s Cat, and superposition. I was fortunate in having a college friend, Dr. Erin Bonning, who works in astrophysics, to run the more technical passages by. I had a very basic understanding of music theory, but that was another area where I had to dig deep, and again I was lucky in having an uncle who is a musician I could consult (and who fixed a number of my errors). I did attend an actual women’s conference, on the work of Virginia Woolf, at Loyola University, which is the basis for the imaginary conference in the book.

4.       What tips would you like to give to aspiring authors?
That’s a funny question, because the book is full of tips for aspiring authors, except that they’re often contradictory. In almost every one of the “lectures,” Matthew finishes by giving Q & A advice, all of which is true. To answer your question more directly, though, I have different advice for aspiring authors at different stages. If you are just starting out, I think the most important thing is to write as much as you can, because you will start to generate a body of work, and you will figure out what you like and how you work. For a writer who has been writing but is not yet published, I would emphasize knowing ‘what’ you--mostly, generally--write, which means some big choices like literary or genre, and further honing that down to what genre, and then reading a lot of similar books in the genre. For anyone writing genre fiction, I always recommend Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid as a kind of master class in structure, even for ‘pantsers’. For a writer who is ready to publish, there are so many options open now, including self-publishing, digital-only publishers, contests, and literary magazines and e-zines. I would try to build up credentials at that level. I personally think querying agents is more of a mid-career move, even though it’s usual presented as a first step.

5.       Is Rachel based on a real person or were you inspired by a fictional character?
The beginning of Variation V is a meditation on the ethics of writing real people into fiction! The idea for the book came out of a confluence of reading Madame Bovary for the first time, Alain de Botton’s philosophical How to Think More About Sex, and Michael Frayne’s play Copenhagen about Bohr and Heisenberg, which uses physics and a series of variations to explore motivation and moral choices. There’s an excellent audio recording of the play with Benedict Cumberbatch available on iTunes or Amazon I highly recommend. It’s a brilliant play.

Of course, there’s always ‘the one that got away,’ and I think when the chips are down, there’s a tendency to ask ‘what if’? So, yes, there’s a ‘Matthew,’ and I really did have a chance to see him present at a conference, and didn’t go, although a lot of Variation VI is unpacking whether that was a moral victory or cowardice. The surprise for me was that all of these supporting characters kept giving Rachel advice, and it was about writing. Her hysterectomy in the book is a fairly transparent metaphor for the loss of creativity. Her name comes from the ship, The Rachel, in Moby Dick, and Melville, of course, is drawing from the bible: “She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.” What I learned in the process of writing the book is that Rachel isn’t searching for love—she’s searching to become creative again. And working on the book did that for me. By the time I finished, I knew writing was what I wanted to do, and the more I write, the more love I find I have for my family. I cut my emotional need for the past and am now a hundred percent in the present, focused on the future. Rachel really healed me.

6.       Ask yourself a question, give yourself and answer.
Q: Is adultery ever justified?

A: The question still fascinates me. In Variation II, Matthew contrasts the way love outside of marriage is treated in opera versus literature. I also tried to consider shades of meaning: What ‘counts’ as adultery? Is it intent? Saying ‘I love you’? A physical encounter? What if it was with another woman? And by looking at the history, I was trying to set our received, cultural ideas of adultery and its moral weight in context: Should male or female adultery be considered equally grievous? Aren’t there some situations—the case of a bad, or arranged, marriage—where our sympathies should lie with the lovers, or would-be lovers? Does our sympathy for them change if they act on it? What about being true to your heart and life being short?

The best argument against adultery I came out with is in Variation VI, in which Rachel concludes it’s literally a form of cheating. Having agreed to the rules of a ‘game’—monogamous marriage—one loses integrity by stepping outside of it. There is a truly beautiful book, Sherry Thomas’ Ravishing the Heiress, in which the hero reluctantly enters an arranged marriage and is later presented with the opportunity of returning to his true love, but you see the story from the perspective of his bride, who knows he doesn’t return her love, and it really makes you understand the cruelty of adultery and that we owe our partners our best. 

Or being very clear that the marriage is over. I believe divorce is sometimes necessary. You can tell in the Coda that I don’t, really, consider the technical, legal status of a marriage important, but for me there would need to be a very clear and honest separation where there is no longer the expectation of fidelity.

You can find links, pictures, and read more ‘behind-the-scenes’ for The Adulteries of Rachel in the Bonus Content on my website:

Thank you for joining us!
You can get in touch with Heidi here:
Facebook: @heidijhewett

Heidi’s newest release, Lexi, a sci-fi romance, releases November 28.
John Michael Kirkpatrick is anxious to make his mark with his work on his father’s university research project, LX8000, a female robot built to mimic humans. But LX8000, or “Lexi,” as John Michael calls the playful, insatiably curious bot, has a mind of her own, and when she unexpectedly turns up on his doorstep in the middle of the night, she sets them both on a journey from the glittering city to the last outpost of human habitation. As time runs out, he must make a choice that will determine his own future: hand Lexi over for reprogramming, or help her escape from the people who bought her. Could he really be falling in love . . . with a machine?