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5 The first structuring motif in both stories is the departure from a familiar space.In both cases the depiction of the familiar world focuses on the values, choices, possibilities and limitations of the lives the characters have chosen and constructed for themselves within these worlds.Janine’s reflections on her life with her husband Marcel are offered as the couple are in the bus transporting them into the desert.The physical discomfort of the trip and the cold that has penetrated Janine’s body articulate the greater desolation that has begun to inhabit her; it is becoming clear to her that this journey encapsulates what she now perceives as the failure of her adult life, a failure she attributes to her marriage to Marcel.1 Albert Camus’ short story “La femme adultère” and Richard Ford’s novella “Abyss” do not immediately invite comparison: Camus’ story traces a middle-aged woman’s growing awareness of the price she has paid for choosing and remaining in a marriage founded on mutual need rather than love, while Ford’s explores the calamitous consequences suffered by protagonists whose sexual affair leads them to betray their spouses and the values and important meanings of their lives.Nor do the temporal or cultural settings of the protagonists’ lives suggest obvious correspondences: the protagonists of “La femme adultère” are in post-Second World War Algeria, while Ford’s male and female protagonists are real estate agents in contemporary America.Yet, for all that might appear divergent in their thematic concerns and cultural contexts, a comparative analysis reveals that the structures and narrative dynamics of Camus’ and Ford’s stories originate to an important degree in their recourse to similar literary motifs, formal properties and, ultimately, themes.

There, they are exposed to a world that is unfamiliar in both its physical and human aspects, eliciting radically different responses from the female and male protagonists.

The male characters are variously impatient with, dismissive of and hostile to the physical and cultural otherness of the desert world, while both female protagonists are deeply affected by their desert experiences, culminating in both cases in a spiritual transformation – fully realised in one protagonist and developing in the other before being brutally terminated.

3 The basic narrative structure of Camus’ story is adequately captured by this summary, as is the essence and intention of this story about a woman whose senseofherselfandherlifearetransformedbyherexperience inthe enigmatic and mysterious world of the desert.

This plot summary, however, does not adequately convey the thrust of “Abyss”; the journey to and experience of the desert in Ford’s story are elements of a narrative whose greater intention is to offer a modern parable on the inescapable causal relation between acts and consequences in the moral context of infidelity.

Structurally, both narratives, in the manner in which their teleological energies are directed towards their respective climaxes, imitate their central thematic metaphor, that of the journey.

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In Camus’ story this delimitation and focus are transparent, and are employed to emphasise the story’s overarching narrative theme: “La femme adultère” moves Janine through the requisite stages of her journey so as to deliver her to her epiphanic moment of transformation, leaving one with the sense of a tightly knit and goal-oriented emplotment.

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