Unbecoming : Jenny Downham

UnbecomingUnbecoming by Jenny Downham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished reading Unbecoming, and I exhaled; one of those great shuddering breaths that rolls from your toes to your throat, and I felt clean. Cleansed. Whole.

Unbecoming. Not just unseemly, inappropriate, but literally un-becoming. A process of being dissasembled and remade; of unmaking and remaking. (A brief segue: I was upset, recently, at some photos a friend took, in which I did not look good. I did not look like myself. I looked like a stutter, a hole in the world, and then I read this book, and I remembered that I am me, I am me, I am me and that is all that matters and oh, this book, this book – !)

Unbecoming is something slow, painterly. Rich. This story of three generations of women; grandmother, mother, daughter, elderly, adult, teenager, is a layered and quiet and subtle read. For a long time as I read it, I did not quite understand it. I couldn’t find the shape of it. I appreciate that’s a slightly airy statement to make so let me explain it. When I write, when I read, I look for the shapes of things. The patterns. They’re in everything and we know how to read them. We know what to do when we see them. Buses come to bus stops. Happiness comes with pain. The shape of things, the shape of the world, and for a long time I couldn’t find the shape of Unbecoming.

But then I did, and it was like seeing a detail in an oil painting and suddenly having that painting come to life around me. A light in the darkness that suddenly shows the whole pattern, the glorious truth at the heart of the novel. This is a novel of selfhood, of learning to be unafraid, of learning to live with the pattern of your life, of your world and of your people. It is a rich gasp of a read, aching, pained, breathless, bright, and I love it and it is talismanic and special and something that is there for those moments when you lose grasp on who you are and what you could be.

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