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 plot, in which our heroine bounces about London like an insecure, emotionally overwrought pinball, is a bit rambling. But the point is Unsworth’s merciless evisceration of the smartphone generation. Superb on sharp and witty online language, you’ll never worry about your ‘likes’ again.
If Unsworth’s novel Animals was named after Frank O’Hara’s poem of the same name, “Have you forgotten what we were like then/when we were still first rate/and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth” then Adults is another beast entirely. The women are older, the world does not seem as much for the taking, but there’s a different sort of peace that passes the Bechdel test. It is another O’Hara poem, “Everything is impossible in a different way/well so what, but there’s a difference/between a window and a wall again.”
Adults is a sharp, funny novel about floundering in a social-media world where everyone else seems to be flying. We start with Jenny overthinking a croissant. She agonises over an Instagram caption for a pastry picture; she bombards Kelly with different caption drafts and is then sick with nerves waiting for the likes to roll in. She wonders what Suzy Brambles would do, for Suzy, an influencer who posts black-and-white photos of her perfect life, has finally repaid Jenny’s devotion by doing her the honour of following her back.