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A Review of “Adults” by Emma Jane Unsworth: on- and offline life

Book cover of Emma Jane Unsworth’s Novel, Adults. White woman in a white shirt is sitting next to a grey and black dog on a lounge. There is colourful floral wallpaper in the background.

This book has all the trappings of contemporary adult living from social media and phone obsessions including the ways in which life online complicates our relationships, especially female friendships. The characters are generally dreadful in their own special ways, but there was something about them that also made them real, accessible, and relatable.

The novel centres on Kelly’s life – her break up with her partner Art, her complicated relationship with her mother, her bizarre para-social relationship with instagram blogger Susie Brambles, and how she struggles to cope with adult life – especially when life doesn’t go to plan.

The social media and phone addiction that is discussed in this novel is extremely poignant for our times. In a world where we are increasingly online – especially since a certain virus showed up – our relationships play out in virtual spaces that are not ‘real’ spaces. The way that you interact online has its own social codes and rules to follow. Questions like ‘How long should you wait to like someone’s post?’ or, ‘What does it say if you don’t like a friend’s post’ are all valid questions in the twenty-first century. Living online rather than ‘in the moment’ can feel more real than the latter. And it is a tricky balance to know where the lines of offline and online begin. Kelly struggles with this throughout the whole novel. In many ways, for me, Kelly seems to use social media as an escape from her life. It is only at the end of the novel that we learn the full extent of her issues with becoming pregnant and how this affects her relationships.

Kelly, like most people, has created an online persona for herself. We often do this without even thinking or noticing a difference. Our online personas tend to be the best version of ourselves. We rarely see pimples, depression, or fat online. Now granted, there are content creators trying to challenge this, but generally speaking the online self should be the immaculate conception of identity. This self is curated and untarnished. It exists in stark contrast to Kelly’s offline self. It seems as though she perfects her online self at the expense of her offline self. As though the only thing with value is what will be immortalised online.

If you’ve wondered how online life impacts offline life then Adults might be the next novel for you. As always, share the reading love.