Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth

The third novel from the author of the critically acclaimed novel and film, Animals, I came to the novel through chatter on twitter. Oh, I thought, people are saying some great things about this book, I’d love to read it. 

I haven’t read Animals or seen the film so I’m probably quite a rare reader of this novel, coming with fresh eyes, though I suspect, from reading a review of the film, that Animals has a similar approach to Adults, one that looks at its female characters not in terms of likeability but in terms of verisimilitude, warts and all.

What I’m going to say next is going to annoy some people. I didn’t always like the main character, Jenny. It’s an irritating thing to say because you could presume that this suggests I think female characters should be likeable. I don’t. I don’t want to read a novel in which I like all the characters, that would be boring, to say the least. However, the irritation I felt was palpable. Jenny is obsessed with her social media standing. She has a column in a magazine in Shoreditch. She has, or had, a very handsome and famous photographer boyfriend. She owns her own house. You just wonder what she has to moan about.

Slowly, over the course of the novel, regardless of any irritation you might feel, it is almost impossible not to be drawn in, not to recognise pieces of yourself in Jenny. Her anxiety about how to present herself online, about what impact that might have on her life, her career, and in particular her happiness, all feels understandable and tangible, especially as she begins to open up about what is going wrong in her life. 

You could argue it’s a coming of age novel for the perennially youthful and millennials. You could say it is a novel about self-acceptance or an exploration of that complex mother-daughter relationship. However you look at it, Adults is an honest no-holes’-barred, rush of a ride into one woman’s desperate attempt to grow up. It’s hard not to be gripped by that ride and it would make an arresting film. I suspect it will. In fact, after listening to Emma Jane Unsworth speak at a Byte The Book event recently, I know she’s adapting it into a television series. I hope it will have that Fleabag feel. Listening to Emma made me want to go back to her earlier work and catch up. For those who are already fans of her work, I’ve no doubt you’ll love Adults. You can pre-order your copies now. It comes out in January 2020.

I’m reviewing Guy Ware’s The Faculty of Indifference next, followed by The Mercies by Karen Millwood Hargrave.