Unprotected by Sophie Jonas-Hill is a novel dedicated to ‘all those who have suffered loss and miscarriage, and keep on fighting’. But it’s not a misery-fest. Far from it. Lydia is a tattooist and, when her long-term relationship breaks down after a series of miscarriages, she’s both hurt and supremely angry. After a drunk night out drowning her sorrows, she wakes up in bed with a much younger man and the story really takes off.
I’m naked, in bed, with the boy from the after-party. Shit, shit, shit! I am naked, in bed, with the boy from the after-party!
To make it worse The Archers omnibus is about to start on the bedside radio:
And boy, that really ain’t cool, now is it? Not when you’re trying to pretend like you’re not a middle class, forty-two-year-old, white woman.
The relationship with The Boy becomes more entangled, and Lydia begins to realise he’s also very vulnerable and she’s made a huge mistake. When she becomes obsessed about rescuing a young girl she’s seen getting into a cab the plot thickens, with echoes of the organised abuse of underage girls. We see how the pain of Lydia’s own losses as well as an unsupportive mother and unreliable friend make her want to save everybody else, at her own expense.
There are some brilliant characters in this novel which make it a pleasure to read. The Boy is incredibly sexy and we see how Lydia would be attracted to him after so much rejection and a sense of failure, in spite of his potential instability. The character, apart from Lydia herself who really stands out is Big Al; he’s taught Lydia the art of tattooing and is a warm, protective father figure. Even when their roles are reversed and Big Al works for her, he’s the one she relies on to help when the going gets really tough and frightening.
If you enjoy a thoroughly contemporary novel that explores some big themes unflinchingly, I’d recommend Unprotected. In Lydia Sophie Jonas-Hill has created a memorable character, both unconventional and flawed, with something of Fleabag’s vulnerability. It’s great to see a woman who makes her own decisions in life, even if they may not be the best ones, and who is prepared to fight both for herself and for other vulnerable people.
Unprotected is available from Retreat West Books. Copy and paste the link to buy on your tablet etc