Unsworth recounts the hedonistic and all-encompassing friendship of two young women, Laura and Tyler. As Laura announces her wedding plans, Unsworth questions what she must leave behind, sacrifice even, in order to marry. The characters are at times unlikeable. They drink excessively, vomit into their hair, insult each other and cheat on their partners. Tyler is unapologetically loud and vulgar with a raucous, dirty laugh and an insatiable quest for all-nighters, yet she is also vulnerable and leans on Laura to dig her out of drug-fuelled ding-dongs with local pub goers. She drags Laura into the chaotic city streets of Manchester’s booming party scene, refusing to accept that her friend will soon get married. The women’s devotion to each other is described intimately by Unsworth: ‘that doppelganger effect that can go either way: to mutual understanding or mutual destruction. Someone sees right to your backbone and simultaneously feels their backbone acknowledged’. Their friendship is a messy entanglement that pushes the boundaries of what it means to be loved, reminding us that romantic love is not the only form of love to exist or even aim towards.
The very presence of these flawed female protagonists is refreshing and relatable. They are anti-heroines in their own right, rebelliously refusing to give up their sense of identity for marriage. This liminal state between engagement and marriage is arguably the most compelling theme of the novel. Unsworth invites her readers to wade into this daunting gap and question society’s preconceptions of unmarried women. As Unsworth explained at a recent book signing in Brighton, for women today, there exists a tension for wanting to rebel against marriage and also recognising that remaining unmarried in our current society is difficult, both economically and socially.
Yet the author refuses to provide clear cut answers to this tension, as instead Laura is plunged between the two worlds. Between her best friend’s antics and her fiancé's warnings to grow up and stop partying, Laura’s self-inquiry highlights what is lost and found along the unsteady trajectory to marriage (or not).
This trajectory is masterfully crafted through an experimental form as Unsworth mixes intimate dialogues between Tyler and Laura with episodic, messy party scenes. It seems Unsworth is as transgressive in her writing style as she is in her boundary breaking characterisation of women. The plot is vertiginous and choppy, switching to different time frames and creating a chaotic, delightful read.
With the book now transformed into a critically acclaimed film and her most recent novel ‘Adults’ soon to be adapted into a TV series, Emma Jane Unsworth is an unstoppable literary talent.