44 pages 1 hour read

Genevieve Wheeler

Adelaide: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide


Genevieve Wheeler’s 2023 debut novel, Adelaide, is a work of contemporary literary fiction. The novel spans from 2009 to 2023, tracing protagonist Adelaide Williams’s romantic conflicts throughout her young adult and adult life. While pursuing a graduate degree in London, England, a jaded Adelaide falls in love with Rory, who satisfies her romantic fantasies, building her belief in committed, unconditional love. However, when Rory’s behavior changes, A­delaide starts to question the sustainability of their dynamic. Through the couple’s prolonged, fraught dynamic, the novel explores the Complexities of Unrequited Love, the Journey Toward Self-Acceptance, and Confronting Mental Health Conditions.

This guide refers to the 2023 St. Martin’s Press hardback edition of the novel.

Content Warning: The source text and this guide discuss death by suicide, sexual violence and abuse, and the complexities of living with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Plot Summary

In 2019, shortly after breaking up with her boyfriend, Rory Hughes, Adelaide Williams attempts to die by suicide and admits herself to the hospital for psychological examination. Her friends Eloise, Madison, and Celeste support Adelaide during her recovery as she reflects on her reasons for trying to end her life.

In 2018, Adelaide starts dating Rory. Their connection is instant, and Adelaide feels like she could spend the rest of her life with him. They go on dates around London, spend nights at Rory’s apartment, and share their most intimate secrets. However, after they have sex for the first time, Rory stops talking to Adelaide for roughly a week. Adelaide worries that she’s done something wrong and considers ending the entanglement before it goes any further. When Rory resurfaces, however, Adelaide changes her mind, and the relationship continues.

Adelaide and Rory continue dating over the following months. Adelaide is in love with Rory and can’t imagine being with anyone else. She loves her life in London, where she is pursuing a graduate degree and has close friends. However, as she grows closer to Rory, she begins to prioritize her relationship with him over other facets of her life. Sometimes Adelaide thinks that Rory loves her too but isn’t brave enough to say it. Other times, he disappears from her life without warning. Adelaide is confused but repeatedly tells herself to keep trying. After Adelaide finishes her degree, one of her former contacts offers her a full-time job. The job, her relationship with Rory, and her life in London convince her that she’s lucky and happy.

One day, at a bookstore, Adelaide meets Nathalie Alban, a book editor at The New York Times. She and Nathalie go out for coffee and connect instantly. Adelaide hopes that Nathalie might give her a position in the publishing world. She tells Rory about Nathalie, and he reveals that she is his ex-girlfriend. They dated for five years during and after college. Rory ended the relationship because he felt incapable of keeping his promises to Nathalie. Soon after, Rory discovers that Nathalie has died in a car accident. Adelaide rushes to comfort him when she hears the news. For weeks, she spends all her time caring for Rory and grieving Nathalie.

Adelaide realizes that she’s been emotional and vomiting a lot. She takes a pregnancy test, and when it’s positive, she hopes that a baby will fix her relationship problems. However, she experiences an early miscarriage and never tells Rory about it. Shortly after meeting Rory’s family, Adelaide finds Rory’s profile on a dating app, ends the relationship, and moves into a new apartment. Overcome by emotion, she attempts to die by suicide, swallowing a handful of pills.

After her subsequent hospitalization, Adelaide receives a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She begins taking medication for her condition and starts meeting with a therapist named Meg. With Meg’s help, Adelaide works to recover from her heartbreak and reengage with her life. She matches with Rory’s former flatmate, Brennan “Bubs” Uralla-Burke, on a dating app, and they develop a committed relationship. Adelaide’s life isn’t free of complications, but she feels happy and secure.

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