I could make my review of Emma Jane Unsworth’s latest novel, Adults, all about gin, because the (23) gin-related scenes are glorious. For example –
‘OH MY GOD.’
‘GET ME A GIN, MOTHER.’
She gets me a gin. I am in the same position when she comes up: calcified. I take the gin without moving my face or indeed any part of myself.
‘Right,’ says my mother. ‘Do you want a gin?’
‘Yes please,’ says Nicolette. My mother runs off.
‘Don’t let her make you a gin,’ I say. ‘You’ll never get out of bed again. She does all-inclusive-package-holiday measures.’
But a review of gin scenes probably won’t inform your decision about whether to read this book. Actually, knowing my blog readers, it might…
Adults (published as Grown Ups in the US) is the story of Jenny, 35-years-old, who has recently broken-up with her famous photographer boyfriend, Art. Art is not at the centre of the story though. Instead, it revolves around Jenny’s other relationships – with her younger flatmates (taken in so that she afford to stay in her house); her vacuous workmates at Foof, the online magazine where she works (‘….as awful as it sounds’); her close friend Kelly, who she relies on greatly but also mistreats; and her mother, Carmen –
“My childhood was ripped through with her ambivalence. She alternately smothered me and wounded me. She was all over the place. She was crazy.”
However, Jenny’s most consuming relationship is with Instagram. The book opens with her agonising over a caption for an Insta post of a croissant.
That’s what the mid-thirties should be about, after all: constant self-interrogation. Acquiring the courage to change what you can, and the therapist to accept what you can’t. What is it I really want to say about pastries? How do pastries truly make me feel? Why is it important right now that I share this?
This might be sounding a little lightweight but Unsworth uses Instagram to explore broader themes around authenticity, and what we reveal of ourselves versus what is kept private. Unsworth layers this with what happens when life doesn’t match our expectations. The result is fantastic – it’s a story that is witty, insightful, surprisingly tender, and in parts, gut-wrenchingly sad.
It’s almost as though there’s no room for romance in modern life, what with feminism, work, social commitments and anxiety.
Adults does not have the grunge of Animals, however, Unsworth’s razor sharp wit is there is abundance –
The cork pops out and we both smile in shock. She pours out two coupes. She says it as we cheers: ‘Champagne is a verb.’ Her credo. She used to say it the evenings when she had people round. She didn’t just have people round. She hosted, like a gigolo on a yacht. Those parties.
Mention must be made of how beautifully Unsworth explores friendships. It’s a theme that I have come across frequently in my reading (recently, The Weekend by Charlotte Wood and Phosphorescence by Julia Baird) – in Adults, she exposes the strength and fragility of friendships, and examines what happens when we strip back the hashtags and filters. It’s sobering.
4/5 This book was exactly what I needed – funny, with a side of serious.
Jenny is obsessed with an Instagram influencer, Suzy Brambles, so a Blackberry Bramble seems appropriate.