We are proud to announce that BookBrowse has won Platinum in the 2024 Modern Library Awards.

BookBrowse Reviews The Adults by Caroline Hulse

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Adults

by Caroline Hulse

The Adults by Caroline Hulse X
The Adults by Caroline Hulse
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2019, 368 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Adrienne Pisch
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Caroline Hulse's clever debut is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family's misguided attempt at civility over the holidays.

Things have already fallen apart on the first page of The Adults. The novel opens with an emergency call - someone has been shot in an archery accident. It's just a small taste of the chaos to come in Caroline Hulse's debut novel.

Divorced parents Matt and Claire have decided to have Christmas together with their seven-year-old Scarlett, and they bring along their new partners, Alex (Matt's girlfriend) and Patrick (Claire's boyfriend). They claim they can be "adults" about the awkward arrangement, but these assertions of emotional maturity come crashing down in the ensuing personal dramas. Each character is brimming with flaws. Matt is a man-child. Patrick is vain. Alex overthinks things. Claire likes to be in control. From the opening pages, readers are invited to look at all of these people with a critical eye. No one escapes scrutiny, and no one comes away the hero. Much of the book revolves around the nuances of Matt and Claire's relationship, both when they were married and now that they are divorced. Hulse heightens the reader's uncertainty by keeping Matt and Claire at a distance; readers only see the divorced couple through the eyes of other characters. Alex, Patrick, and Scarlett, the three narrators, all have various ideas about how Matt and Claire feel about one another, and the reader must piece together the truth through these accounts. Each perspective piles on new relationship nuances, and questions posed in one character's point of view may be answered for the reader through another character. Since the reader is privy to several characters' inner thoughts and memories, even the smallest conversation can prove significant.

The Adults is a comedy of manners, but it's also a mystery. After the initial emergency call, the novel unravels how the characters got to that moment. In addition to three rotating narrators, Hulse uses narrative framing devices to further develop the emotional tension. Cheerful excerpts of text from brochures for Happy Forest camping park, the British campground where the novel takes place, are juxtaposed with police interviews with other camp guests. Both are placed between chapters to break up the narrative and provide some exterior perspective in an otherwise inward, emotional drama. While this book fits into the dark comedy genre, I rarely found myself laughing. Instead, the novel's strength lies in capturing anxiety-inducing misunderstandings between characters.

While these characters (particularly Alex and Patrick) are complex and sympathetic, Hulse almost makes them too unlikable. Perhaps this is a personal bias, but I couldn't see why either Alex or Claire had ever fallen for Matt. It's obvious within the first few pages that he's immature (in a way that isn't even really depicted as fun) and a slob. There are moments where he inspires compassion, particularly as he seems to really enjoy spending time with Scarlett; despite that, I never felt that I was on his side. Alex and Patrick both had plenty of flaws, but I was able to overlook those more easily than Matt's because of the additional depth afforded to them through their points of view.

The interpersonal strain keeps the plot moving along efficiently until the very end, which I found abrupt and overly optimistic. It wasn't satisfying, partly because, except for Alex, I really wanted the characters to feel repercussions for their actions. That's not a particularly charitable feeling, but then again, even though it takes place at Christmas, the book is not exactly full of cheer.

Despite my concern about tone, I truly enjoyed the book. It is a great drama about the collision of old and new loves, and the characters are memorable and entertaining. If you're already getting nervous about the tumult of the upcoming holidays, consider losing yourself in the fictional chaos of The Adults.

Reviewed by Adrienne Pisch

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2019, and has been updated for the November 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Imaginary Friends

Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Adults, try these:

  • Let's Not Do That Again jacket

    Let's Not Do That Again

    by Grant Ginder

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    From Grant Ginder, the author of The People We Hate at the Wedding, comes Let's Not Do That Again a poignant, funny, and slyly beguiling novel which proves that, like democracy, family is a messy and fragile thing - perfect for fans of Veep's biting humor, the family drama of Succession, and the joys of Kevin Wilson's Nothing to See Here.

  • Other People's Children jacket

    Other People's Children

    by R.J. Hoffmann

    Published 2022

    About this book

    A riveting debut novel about a couple whose dream of adopting a baby is shattered when the teenage mother reclaims her child.

We have 8 read-alikes for The Adults, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    by Derek B. Miller
    Derek B. Miller's sixth novel, The Curse of Pietro Houdini, opens in the town of Cassino, Italy, in ...
  • Book Jacket: Our Moon
    Our Moon
    by Rebecca Boyle
    In Our Moon: How Earth's Celestial Companion Transformed the Planet, Guided Evolution, and Made Us ...
  • Book Jacket: Neighbors and Other Stories
    Neighbors and Other Stories
    by Diane Oliver
    The history of American segregation, along with changes to it in the 1960s, is sometimes taught and ...
  • Book Jacket: Wild and Distant Seas
    Wild and Distant Seas
    by Tara Karr Roberts
    Tara Karr Roberts is a newspaper columnist who also teaches English and journalism. Wild and Distant...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Mockingbird Summer
by Lynda Rutledge
A powerful and emotional coming-of-age novel set in the 1960s by the bestselling author of West with Giraffes.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Strong Passions
    by Barbara Weisberg

    Shocking revelations of a wife's adultery in 19th New York explode in an incendiary trial exposing the upper-crust and its secrets.

  • Book Jacket

    Leaving
    by Roxana Robinson

    An engrossing exploration of the vows we make to one another and what we owe to others and ourselves.

Win This Book
Win The Cleaner

The Cleaner
by Brandi Wells

Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee."
PW (starred review)

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.