Jenny McLaine’s life is falling apart. Her friendships are flagging. Her body has failed her. She’s just lost her column at The Foof because she isn’t the fierce voice new feminism needs. Her ex has gotten together with another woman. And worst of all: Jenny’s mother is about to move in. Having left home at eighteen to remake herself as a self-sufficient millennial, Jenny is now in her thirties and nothing is as she thought it would be.
Emma Jane Unsworth’s virtuoso new novel is far too canny to convey anything so gauche as a 'message', but if it did, it would be this: step away from your screen ... Adults is a tale rich in keenly observed relationships – between mothers and daughters, best friends and boyfriends, idols and rivals – yet its central, inseparable pairing is that of thirtysomething heroine Jenny and her phone. Theirs is a supremely dysfunctional affair ... Daffy one-liners, trenchant satire, misadventure of the laugh/cry variety – the narrative pops with all of the above as it parses everything from selfhood to attraction ... Though she’s a dauntingly able all-rounder ... it’s as a comedic writer that Unsworth sparkles, and her quickfire wit synthesises perfectly with her theme in Adults, mimicking the relentless pace of the internet. Yet like the very best of her kind, she creates a world complex enough that in the echoes of our laughter are also relatability, wistfulness, even hope. All are present in this novel’s satisfying close.
...a novel that acutely captures the anxious ruminations of a life lived online ... Unsworth’s prose is jaunty, witty, sexy and funny ... The novel verges on the manic in places – there are a lot of exclamation marks and shouty upper-case typography. The patchwork structure, with very short chapters, including email drafts and therapy session monologues, means that it lacks the tight coherence of Unsworth’s previous novel, Animals. ... The writing can be gorgeously shiver-inducing ... The last third...is almost unbearably moving, in part through its directness ... Adults has much packed into it: romance, grief and betrayal, with several twists and turns and shifting loyalties. The path between the jaunty humour and gut-wrenching sadness that Unsworth steered so precisely in Animals feels more unsteadily managed here; the form seems unresolved. But her writing surprises, delights and moves. I will remember, for a long time, this novel’s lacerating wit and its melancholy sorrow.
The reader, too, may find Jenny’s online insecurities barely credible given her age. But her voice is so immediately engaging—and her perspective so zanily acute—that we overlook any incongruities ... But this oddly charming narrative is far more than a feast of one-liners. Ms. Unsworth’s satirical eye is more keenly focused here than in her previous two novels ... self-inflating targets such as mindfulness, artiness and new-manliness are sparingly deployed and exquisitely punctured while the overall mood is subtly textured and the central plot almost quaintly plain ... The novel’s deeper charm resides in its fleeting evocations of the past and of England’s flintier regions, sketches that in their deftness recall Alan Bennett’s portraits of his northern English birthplace ... in this sprightly novel introspection has met its match.