Love is a very complicated thing, and the many books about affairs and other failings of the heart are a testament to this.
Once upon a time, the prince and princess would get married and live happily ever after. The end. But the endings aren’t so simple. Marriage is complex. It is not the end but yet another beginning. One that leads to a life of beauty and interdependence but also vulnerability and disappointments.
I have a confession to make: I get scared when a couple gets married either in the beginning or the middle of the book. When a couple is married and there are still more pages to be read, you can guarantee problems are on the horizon and they often come in the form of an affair. Although there are many other marriage problems authors could write about, books about affairs seem to be most popular.
The reasons behind affairs are multitudinous and not all signify the end of the marriage. In novels, the reader experiences a plethora of motivations and consequences. In nonfiction, readers learn how other’s have dealt with affairs and are given tools with which to cope.
The list below features ten fiction books exploring the complicated nature of an extra-marital affair. They explore its effects on the members involved from multiple points of view. This is followed by a list of nine nonfiction books about affairs, ranging from memoir to self-help.
Fiction Books About Affairs
1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
You can’t talk books about affairs without mentioning this classic. Madame Bovary is probably most famously known for its scene of an erotic nature, which caused a moral outcry in 1857. You’ve probably studied it in your English modules on censorship. However, Madame Bovary continues to be admired as a very honest portrayal of a woman bored by the banalities of provincial life and the devastating consequences of her feelings of being trapped.
2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Probably one of the most popular of Adichie’s books. This book speaks poignantly on race, especially what it means to be black in America and the UK. But underneath the social commentary, this is a love story. It’s a love story between a man and a woman who are wrenched apart and who do not allow anything as trivial as marriage to stand between their being together again.
3. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Sally Rooney’s sensational debut probes the freedom (and ignorance) of youth. This is not your average book about an affair. What begins as an affair evolves into a complicated polyamorous relationship in which none of the participants escapes unscathed.
4. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
The 2019 Women’s Prize winner is a narrative on affairs that does not allow the reader to choose sides. Or at least makes it very difficult. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are on track to live happily ever after until Roy is sentenced to serve time for a crime he didn’t commit. Celestial is forced to choose between putting her life on hold and waiting for the years until Roy’s release or learning to not just survive but thrive.
5. Sula by Toni Morrison
Sula is a story mostly about friendship, societal norms for women, and how a few choices can make one woman a moral citizen and the other a pariah. The title character does not live her life by others’ expectations and is the scorn of every wife in her neighbourhood. She lives unapologetically but sleeps with one husband too many, with dire consequences.
6. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
You know it’s a book about affairs when it has the word “affair” in the title. In Graham Greene’s classic, Maurice Bendrix looks back on his passionate affair with Sarah Miles. His reflections pass through infatuation, to hatred to redemption.
7. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
The powerful bestseller about a woman who’s mental health deteriorates dramatically when her husband leaves her for a younger woman.
8. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The third novel by the inimitable Zadie Smith is set of both sides of the Atlantic and it explores family, marriage, where the political and the personal intersect, and deception.
9. Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Set against the backdrop of President Obama’s victory, two couples find themselves on the brink of revolution or acceptance. Melissa and Michael grapple with a new baby and redefined marital roles while Stephanie tries to get Damian to open up about the death of his father. When you can’t turn to your spouse, you find someone else.
10. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum
A love story in reverse. Failed monogamist Richard Haddon finally decides to leave behind his adulterous ways and win back the love of his life just as she discovers the full extent of his affairs.
Nonfiction Books About Affairs
1. Infidelity: A Memoir by Ann Pearlman
As a psychotherapist and a best-selling author, Anne Pearlman thought she knew the secret to maintaining a monogamous marriage. That is, until she discovered her husband’s affair with a married woman. This gripping memoir tells of the devastating effects of extramarital affairs over three generations.
2. Undressing Infidelity: Why More Women Are Cheating by Diane Shader Smith
After hearing that 65% of married women cheat on their husbands, Diane Shader Smith decided to sit with 150 women to try and discover why. Undressing Infidelity recounts the stories of 12 women, from Midwestern mums to Manhattan execs, who chose to be unfaithful and their reasons why.
3. Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, & Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage
Pearl Cleage’s gripping memoir reflects on her struggles juggling marriage, politics, and motherhood, and how her rise to affluence as a writer pulled her away from her husband Michael Lomax.
4. The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel
Couples therapist Esther Perel digs deep into the taboo subject of affairs and why they are a universal practice, even within the happiest of marriages. What can affairs tell us about the intricacies of human relationships and love?
5. It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered by Lisa Terkeurst
In this revelatory and honest book, Lisa TerKeurst shares her most painful experiences and betrayals with the reader. Yet through it all, she encourages the reader to see how, in the worst of life’s trials, God remains faithful.
6. Unfaithful: Hope and Healing After Infidelity by Gary Shriver, Mona Shriver
When you hear that one in four marriages are affected by affairs, it’s no wonder there are so many books about affairs. But is an affair the death sentence of a marriage? Gary and Mona Shriver went through the pain of infidelity and wrote this book over the course of saving their marriage, in the hopes of helping others, too.
7. The Concubine’s Children: Portrait of a Family Divided by Denise Chong
Chong tells the true story of her grandmother, who was taken to the New World as a concubine to a man who left his wife and children behind in China, and how she discovered the existence of this whole other family years later.
8. A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite
A suspicious email led Jen Waite to suspect the man she had loved for years—the father of her daughter—was having an affair. Further investigation only revealed more lies and deceit, unveiling a man who had been living a lie for the past five years of their love story.
9. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
Love Warrior is the story of a marriage imploding on itself and of the healing that goes into rebuilding and restoring to once again allow yourself the hope of falling in love.