|Author:||Emma Jane Unsworth|
|Publisher:||Borough Press/Jonathan Ball Publishers|
|Disclaimer:||Jonathan Ball Publishers sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review|
“Vague social terror: that’s my motivation”
Jenny is a tad obsessed with Instagram. She agonizes over the perfect photo of a croissant and the perfect hashtag and the perfect caption for her dedicated followers. Other than this constant need for validation within the realm of social media, Jenny is also following Suzy Brambles, the Instagram account of a stranger who is everything Jenny wishes to be. Jenny is determined to live her life vicariously through a women she has never met. At 35 she is a writer for a feminist magazine called Foof, and writes a column based on shallow life observations and advice for women living in the digital age. Her Instagram account does nothing to fill the surmounting dread that life is passing her by.
Jenny met her now ex-boyfriend Art whilst on assignment at an Eco lodge on the edge of the Sahara dessert. They began communicating via email, which quickly led to a romance, moving in together and then to a long term relationship that lasted several years. When Art breaks up with her she relies heavily on her best friend Kelly whom she met a decade previously when she saved Kelly’s infant son after he wandered onto a freeway. Kelly is the long-suffering friend to a person who is extremely self-absorbed and obsessed with portraying just the right image. That’s right readers, our dear protagonist is not a particularly likeable person. Its easy enough to relate to the parts of Jenny that aren’t so admirable though, and in a world where validation is everything it is hard not to recognize our own disconnection from what is real and what is simply a way to appear more glamorous to our friends, our families and our followers.
Very soon after Art breaks up with her, Jenny wallows in self-pity and then experiences more despair when her house-mates, Sid, Frances and Moon (all of whom she disliked anyway) decide to leave as none of them can stand living with Jenny either (much to Jenny’s surprise). After her room-mates leave, Jenny’s mother moves in, and it is through Jenny’s own flashbacks that we learn of her turbulent relationship with the bohemian mother whose chosen profession – spiritual healer and psychic medium – has always baffled Jenny.
Whilst Jenny has a seemingly unhealthy relationship with social media, and an obsession with appearing to have the perfect life, she is also prone to inner monologues and writes emails to herself and others that she never sends. Her relationship with Kelly is incredibly one-sided, and eventually even her best friend grows tired of Jenny’s self-absorption. In true Jenny fashion she fails to see her own role in the demise of their friendship and quickly contacts another friend Nicolette whom she considers shallow, and therefore an ‘easier’ friend than Kelly.
As Jenny’s job at Foof is threatened and her obsession with Suzy Brambles grows, even her friends and family can’t seem to rescue our heroine from self-sabotaging and living her life for the approval of others. This is not to say that Jenny is an uncomplicated or unobservant person, in fact she is intelligent, quick-witted and very observant of the world around her – it is just her own life that she fails to see clearly.
“What are you scared of? Of being left behind. Of not being wanted. Of coming second. And the disappointing utter fucking childishness of that”
Beneath Jenny’s seemingly flippant comments and her supposedly shallow existence there lies a darkness and a sadness that will reveal itself through Unsworth’s extremely clever and contemporary narrative and prose. Jenny is not the most likeable character and she is often downright frustrating with her lack of empathy, but it is difficult not to make the uneasy connection between Jenny and our own obsession with image through the medium of social media. It is also a lot easier for fictional characters to redeem themselves if the reader can relate to them and I don’t think we need to look that far beneath the surface to see ourselves in Jenny McLaine.
Emma Jane Unswsorth has created a wary anti-hero for our times, and I believe readers will thoroughly enjoy this contemporary romp and unique tale of a thirty-something woman navigating this life of instant gratification, the constant need for validation and all the while learning to love herself.