A fun book that mixes humour, real people and the stresses of spending Christmas together.
“The Adults” is a story of two middle-class English couples spending Christmas together at a cabin in a forest in Yorkshire (this is England, so think very, very small forest). The twist is that the party is made up of two people who are divorced from each other, Scarlett, their seven-year-old-daughter, her imaginary friend ( a very tall stuffed rabbit called Posey) and their current partners. What could possibly go wrong?
This had me laughing even before I made it to the first chapter. The prologue defined the word adults, then gave an extract from the “Happy Forest” holiday brochure, describing the forest as “a place where you make memories that will last a lifetime,”
Then we go straight to a phone call that goes something like.
“Hello? Is that emergency services? He’s been shot. We’re at the archery course, next to the Elves smoking shelter. Please come quickly. There’s so much blood.”
This juxtaposition of marketing and mayhem, delivered entirely straight, had me laughing into my morning coffee.
The book then winds back in time to when each of the new partners discovers who they’re going to spending Christmas with. Bit by by bit, mostly through the eyes of the two new partners and the little girl, we build up a picture of the five people (six if you count Posie – which you should) who are going to be locked in a small cabin together over Christmas.
The book is structured into two narratives that don’t converge until the final chapters: one telling the story of the Christmas in the cabin as it unfolds, including some reflections on how the new couples met, and a second one composed of present-day interviews that are part of the police investigation into the shooting.
The interviews are a clever way of increasing tension by referring to things that haven’t happened yet, each one of which makes you cover your eyes and go “How could THAT have happened?” Who has been shot and by whom becomes a little clearer with each interview but remains a topic of speculation.
The characters, although not always likeable, are beautifully and empathically drawn. All of the adults have flaws, most of which they’re perfectly aware of but which they can’t overcome. The people seem real, even when their behaviour makes you cringe.
Claire and Matt, the divorced couple, have a strong shared history but have probably outgrown each other, Patrick, Claire’s new partner is still stunned that he’s able to be with someone as attractive as Claire and will make whatever changes are asked of him to make sure he keeps her. Alex, Matt’s new girlfriend is fighting her urge to get drunk, her discomfort at being manipulated into this Christmas set up and her growing irritation with Matt. Matt is… well, happily oblivious most of the time, or at least pretending to be. Relationships between the four of them are… complicated.
Scarlett, the little girl at the centre of Matt and Claire’s lives, is perhaps the most interesting character of all. There’s no schmaltz or Disney-Princess slant here. Scarlett is a real girl trying to figure out life with the aid of her only friend, her imaginary rabbit, Posey. I thought Scarlett’s relationship with Posey required less imagination and self-deception than that between some of the couples.
The tone of the book stays light but manages to deal with themes that many of us will recognise as real. The plot unfolds at a well-planned pace that adds tension while re-inforcing the humour.
It’s a great setup for an audiobook. Each chapter is written from the point of view of one of the characters and each character has its own narrator, one of whom is one of my favourites, Peter Kenney.
You can hear an extract here: