‘A deeply frustrating novel’ – Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

adultonsetThis is a deeply frustrating novel. Despite a promising premise, the possibly interesting story is pushed aside as the writer asks the reader to do a lot of things that many will struggle to do. At the writing level, we’re asked to put up with constant repetitions as the story dances around itself in an effort to show the muddled mind of the protagonist. We also seem to be expected to easily understand the many, many jumps in time, even though they are at times very unclear and confusing. And then we’re asked to manage a huge cast of extras and differentiate between them, even though the majority have little to define them.

Worse that all that, though, is the character at the heart of the story, Mary Rose McKinnon. We are asked to feel intense pity for perhaps the most privileged protagonist that has ever been put down on paper. She has two wonderful kids, a wife that adores her and forgives her ridiculous personality, a mansion to live in, and two best-selling novels to her name. At times it seems her biggest hardship is having to sign autographs for her legion of adoring fans. A paragraph from the novel pretty much sums up how hard it to sympathise:

“There is nothing wrong with her life. She has a loving partner and two healthy, beautiful children. She has put money into education funds, she has put photos into albums. She can make pancakes without a recipe, she knows where the IKEA Allen key is, and has memorised the international laundry symbols – she has not Polaroided her shoes, she has her inner Martha Stewart in check. That is a slippery slope: you start making your own ricotta, next thing you know you’re in jail.”

As well as showing how difficult it can be to side with this character, the paragraph above does something else. It demonstrates what is most frustrating about Adult Onset. Because, at its inception, the idea for the novel seems to come from a commendable place. It intends to show that depression can strike even the most advantaged of people. That blocked memories and repetition of family traits can lead almost anybody to tumble towards a downward spiral. That’s all very true, and something that needs to be discussed.

But in literature, you need to give a reader at least a little reason to empathise. MacDonald does do that, but not until the closing stages. By the time you realise what difficulties Mary Rose has faced in her life, you will have already read three hundred pages in which you can only feel anger towards her. It’s a shame, because a novel that faces this theme and succeeds is long overdue.

Any Cop?: Well intentioned; yes. Readable and enjoyable; afraid not.

 

Fran Slater


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