News, Culture & Society

YOU Reading Group: The Adults by Caroline Hulse

The Adults isn’t really a Christmas book. It’s set at Christmas, but isn’t about Christmas: think Die Hard not Elf. I have no religion and even the secular side of Christmas – the food, the Away in a Manger-ness, the sparkle – can pass me by. I drink to excess all year round, I feel no need to wait until the most socially acceptable festive period. Come December, I might buy the dog an advent calendar, put up a tree and buy a handful of gifts, but that’s about it. I am not a child and have no children: Christmas isn’t aimed at me.

So why did I set a book at this twinkly time of year?

For one massive reason. Because I wanted to write about conflict.

For those of us living in societies shaped by Christianity, Christmas is in our faces all the time. And we know it’s a time for conflict – we hear the drip-feed of stories. The meltdowns on Christmas day. The people who ‘just don’t appreciate the effort we’ve gone to’. The newspaper articles about how busy divorce solicitors are in January. And that’s before you think about the outsiders and the suffering, for whom the pain can intensify during the festive season. We know the number of calls to The Samaritans rockets in December. We know all of the above. But still, we think if we just put some more thought into presents, if we accommodate that awkward family member a little better – if we plan a little better, really get things right – then this year, this time, it will be special. This year, things will be different.

For The Adults, Christmas will certainly be different. Two divorced parents and their new partners, trying to make things perfect for the child in their life, spending the festive period all together in a lodge in a holiday park. What could possibly go wrong?

Well – everything. And those are the books I like to write. Books in which people behave badly but not because anyone is bad, but because they’re well-intentioned people pushed to absurd extremes. In the case of The Adults, the catalyst is the high-stakes attempt to play Happy (blended) Families at f(a-la-la-la-la)*cking Christmas.

In the festive season, there’s the overwhelming societal pressure for everyone to have fun. The ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’ questions never stop. The adverts tell you what a magical time this is, a time in which poverty or illness are conveniently driven underground by the force of the bauble. This is no place for a party pooper. There are sleigh bells in every supermarket, twinkly Instagrammed trees, social media messages telling you your friends are feeling #blessed.

And don’t you want to be #blessed too?

If the stakes aren’t high enough already, let’s throw in the culmination of another year (which may or may not have gone how you intended). Let’s throw in family members who choose not to see each other at any other time. Let’s put people in a claustrophobic environment where they’re not practicing their usual self-care activities, with too much alcohol, too much worry about those future credit card bills (so those kids had better appreciate that Pet Palace.) Oh, then let’s throw in boredom, overnight houseguests and competitive games. Because nothing ever went wrong over a board game, did it?

The characters in The Adults are not bad people. They are people who are responding to circumstance, who have been a little naïve about how maturely they can expect to cope with this situation. They’re a little too confident that they’ll be able to keep their ticking timebomb-secrets locked away.

So. If you’re having a terrible time this year: if you’re pretending not to cry in the toilet to the sound of ‘Stop the Cavalry’, consider this my Christmas gift to you. The gift of a reality check. The gift of someone else trying really hard, and still having a worse Christmas than you.

After all, no-one gets shot with an arrow at your Christmas Day. Do they…?



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