I read ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls a few years ago and loved it, not just because the author happens to be a fellow alumnus of my university. It was fresh, witty and heart warming in addition to being very well written. It, like his first novel- ‘Starter for 10’ was made into a film which starred Anne Hathaway. When I found out that his next book ‘Us’ was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, I knew I had to read it.
‘Us’ is a love story about Douglas and Connie Peterson, a middle-aged couple whose 21-year marriage is on the verge of collapse. Connie announces one night that she’s considering leaving Douglas even though they have booked a family Grand Tour of Europe with their 17 year old son –Albie who is about to leave for university. Douglas, still grappling with his wife’s news, decides that they must go on the trip anyway. The reader spends the rest of the book trying to figure out whether or not the trip will fill the cracks in their marriage.
The books explores two timelines flitting between the couple as fifty-something year olds struggling with their marriage and two decades before, when they first met generally exploring their differences as individuals and the challenges their marriage faced through the years. Douglas is a biochemist whilst Connie is an artist and how they function and see the world is largely an extension of what they do for a living. Douglas is stoically logical and unadventurous whilst Connie is the free spirited, creative, conflicted one. I found their dynamic very reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Jed and Clarissa in his book “Enduring Love”
Though certain parts of the story are very well written and observationally very clever, the three main characters Douglas, Connie & Albie are not really that likeable. Douglas who is the main narrator is the most difficult of the three. I must admit however that I did warm to his sense of humour. This is how Douglas describes his own physical appearance;
‘And its true, I have a perfectly fine face, eyes that may well be ‘kind’ but are also the brownest of browns, a reasonable sized nose and the kind of smile that causes photographs to be thrown away.’
Although Douglas is funny, he almost always stretches self-deprecation to its limits and this makes him quite annoying further into the story. There is a way he hankers on realism, even when his reasoning is justified, that makes reading his perspective just tedious.
I liked some things about David Nicholls’ ‘Us’. It explores a stage in relationships that is often neglected because it’s tricky to give a realistic portrayal of without it seeming predictable and dismal. The end of the story was a surprise. I wont expand on that so there are no spoilers. On the whole I didn’t really connect with the book. Although I enjoyed parts of it, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Please let me know if you have read it and what you thought!