Writing this review for Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth has been an interesting process for me. I only write reviews of books I have enjoyed, because it’s not in my nature to publicly trash a book.
I came to reading Adults, well aware that the book had a polarising effect on audiences. That was quite possibly part of its allure. I had seen people online who openly disliked it, and had heard references to it as a ‘marmite’ book.
I went into it with my eyes and mind fully open. Well, here I am writing a review, so you’ll know that I liked it, but I hope to pick apart a little of why.
Jenny is 35, she has broken up with her long-term boyfriend, she shamelessly mines the lives of her friends, family and flatmates in a magazine column, and she is an Instagram addict. Adults follows a period of months in Jenny’s life when her various work, love, social and financial spheres threaten to implode.
I think the crux of people not taking to this book hinges on Jenny. She is deeply flawed and very easy to dislike in the early stages of the books. She is self-absorbed and obsesses with the version of herself that she projects to the world through social media. But beyond phones, she’s also acutely manic. Her brain is popping and fizzing, and not just from the drink and drugs.
My perception is that some readers might not be able to get beyond their initial dislike of her. I knew she would be likely to go on some form of character arc in self-discovery and that was what kept me reading. I wanted to see if she would have some kind of redemption. For the most part, I think she does, or at least markedly tones down character traits that threatened to see her wind up bitter and alone.
The exploration of the trigger points and influences on her manic behaviour happens over the course of the novel. However, because these moments aren’t signposted in neon lights, or are covered by Jenny’s trademark cynicism, they might be overlooked. She can be a hard character to empathise with, but ultimately, I did.
I don’t think Adults is a bad book at all. I think for a character to jar with you shows what a good job the writer is doing. Jenny frustrated me for sure, (her ‘friendship’ with Kelly is completely exasperating). Her manic overthinking, drafting emails, posts and captions is exhausting, but my awareness of feeling these emotions kept me committed.
I have read other books that tackle being in a thirties life crisis. Perhaps off the back of that I was better prepared for Adults, or recognised a character type I was familiar with and could invest in.
I think a book that challenges you is worth reading, and Adults is one of those books.