Publisher: David Fickling Books
Source: Uncorrected proof copy from publisher
I was so excited to hear that Jenny Downham was bringing out a new book after fully enjoying her previous work and ‘Unbecoming’ is everything I hoped it would be.
‘Unbecoming’ follows the story of Mary, an old lady suffering from severe memory loss. Following the death of her husband Jack she ends up living with her reluctantly accommodating daughter Caroline and her two grandchildren Katie and Chris. For Mary, this is a confusing situation which draws to the forefront fragments of her past; For Katie, it is a chance to get to know the grandmother she never had the opportunity to know. This book follows the multigenerational story of a family with a complicated history of secrets and regret.
The narrative switches between the present day and flashbacks from Mary’s past, filtered through the lens of her failing memory. Downham also makes use of old letters to piece together the truth about this family’s tangled history.
This is not simply a story about family however; each character is complexly and sensitively written and each has their own personal struggles. Downham covers a range of issues and human experiences, from Katie’s discovery of her sexuality, to Mary’s grief for the loss of her husband, to Caroline’s resentment about her adoption and her role as a carer for everyone in her life. This is a complex and superbly well-written novel for teens and adults alike.