Ida is a forty-year-old architect, single and starting to panic. She’s navigating Tinder and contemplating freezing her eggs, but forces these worries to the back of her mind as she sets off to the family cabin for her mother’s sixty-fifth birthday.
But family ties old and new begin to wear thin, out in the idyllic Norwegian countryside. Ida is fighting with her sister Marthe, flirting with Marthe’s husband and winning the favour of Marthe’s stepdaughter. Some supposedly wonderful news from her sister sets tensions simmering even further, building to an almighty clash between Ida and her sister, her mother, her whole family.
Exhilarating, funny and unexpectedly devastating, Grown Ups asks what kind of adult you are without a family of your own.
I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour for Grown Ups by Marie Aubert. My thanks to Tara McEvoy of Pushkin Press for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, provided via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
This was such a melancholic book to read, I wasn’t expecting it at all. We are following the story of Ida, as she goes out to her family’s holiday cabin on the edge of a fjord to celebrate her mother’s birthday, along with her stepfather, her sister and her sister’s family. Ida’s life isn’t going to plan at all. She is forty, alone and contemplating freezing her eggs before time runs out.
Ida is quite a hard character to like, to be honest. She seems pathologically jealous of her sister, to the point where she is actively destructive. I understand where she is coming from. Her sister is hugely annoying – demanding and self-centred – and everyone seems to pander to her. At least this is how it looks to Ida, and she feels side-lined by the rest of the family. I have three sisters, and sometimes they can wind me up because we are all very different people, but I would never behave to them the way Ida does. She seems quite sly, which is hard to warm to.
In fact, most of the people in this story, and it is a small cast, are quite dysfunctional. The one person who isn’t, probably because he is so peripheral, Ida hates, probably because he observations on her behaviour are so acute and she doesn’t like having her faults mirrored back at her. In fact, I am sure the author meant Stein to act a little as Ida’s conscience, not that she takes much notice of him.
This is an excoriating treatise on family relationships, and how some people’s are so transactional. If you don’t behave a certain way, affection can be withheld. It is a diatribe against the expectations society has, with the family acting as a microcosm of society here, on women and how women feel when they can’t meet those expectations. How it undermines their own opinion of themselves. I didn’t get the impression that Ida liked herself very much, she certainly isn’t happy, but I also wasn’t convinced she wanted the things she was pursuing particularly for herself, but because that is what society expects her to do.
The book is beautifully written, with very detailed and well-developed characters who were very realistic on the page. Perhaps too realistic. I fully believed in the relationships that were playing out on the page, and they made me deeply sad. It is astounding to me that this book was written by someone young, as it has such a world-weary air. It is a sorry reflection of modern society that this is how it still makes women feel when they do not conform to an outdated stereotype.
This is a fantastically crafted novel, with some beautiful imagery, impressive characterisation and thought-provoking themes. It reminded me of how I felt after reading Sarah Moss’s exceptional Summerwater last year. Moved but profoundly sad. If you are looking for something meaningful to read, look no further.
Grown Ups is out now in paperback and ebook formats, and you can buy a copy here.
Please make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for this book as detailed below:
About the Author
Marie Aubert made her debut in 2016 with the short story collection Can I Come Home With You, which sold more than 10,000 copies in Norway. Grown Ups is her first novel, and won the Young People’s Critics’ Prize (Norway’s equivalent to the Goncourt des lyceens) and was nominated for the Booksellers’ Prize. Rights have already been sold in ten other countries.
Connect with Marie: