Book Club LIVE: Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth Part 1

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During this lockdown our virtual worlds have expanded with FaceTime for family, Teams meetings for colleagues, Skype dinners with friends, theatre on Youtube, and Salon’s online Book Club.

My first online bookclub was with Emma Jane Unsworth who discussed her book Adults.

We were told there wouldn’t be spoilers because some people had received the book a little later than normal. This wasn’t an issue for me, since I’d bought the eBook. The advantage of the ebook was that I could read it immediately; the disadvantage was that that it didn’t represent the words in the way the author intended.

Form and Formatting

Unsworth said she had enjoyed playing with form in Adults to show the main character Jenny’s brain. Jenny’s thoughts could be represented on the page with a single word.

The impact you get from turning a physical page and seeing one word on a blank book-sized sheet of paper was somewhat lessened when scrolling through text on an iPhone screen.

Italics were another way thoughts were represented. Jenny responded to her best friend Kelly saying she doesn’t want to date again:

Because you’ve done the procreation thing? I think, helplessly.
This brain!

The thoughts aren’t in speech marks. Jenny isn’t talking to herself; she is thinking. Unsworth’s use of a comma before 'helplessly' shows how automatic or involuntarily it was. The thinking is also in the present tense. The reader is trapped in the moment with Jenny the narrator.

The thought is on a different line to the exclamation: ‘This brain!’ The personal pronoun ‘I’ in ‘I think’ becomes the demonstrative pronoun ‘this’. The line break and using ‘this’, rather than a possessive pronoun, ‘my brain’, distances Jenny from her own brain. Perhaps here Unsworth is inserting herself as author into the text and exclaiming about Jenny’s brain.

Unsworth’s insights into her intentions definitely added to my enjoyment of the book. Although literary linguists and theorists previously exited the author to focus purely on the language, authors create their characters, and add something extra to our understanding of their craftmanship.

When asked what Jenny would make of Bridget Jones, Unsworth categorically said she’d love her. Jenny and Bridget would go out and drink a large glass of chardonnay together. However, she emphasised that Jenny would manage to make the encounter negative by worrying she wasn’t funny.

Do we, like Jenny, worry too much about social media and the virtual world to the detriment of our offline lives? Perhaps. Adults is full of mimetically formatted text that has been minutely obsessed over and discussed to death: instagram posts, text messages, emails, scripts.

Instead of seeing the internet personas that accompany the perfected text and enhanced images as a representation of real life, maybe it would be better to see them as fiction or art and to artistically distance them in the same way Nabokov advises about his characters. We could then appreciate the ‘art’ (including advertising and self-promotion) from a (safer) distance, and be free to enjoy the ‘real’ interactions with our friends and family.

In this online e-world and i-universe, 'real' physical books have their own advantages, too.

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