Happy Thursday, Reading Nook!
David Nicholls has been on my radar since Starter for 10 and One Day, so it's not surprising that I've been dying to read Us for quite some time now.
(And let me tell you, five years = a pretty long wait!)
After reading Us, I think that it's not at all surprising that the book has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
It's a smart and heartbreakingly honest look at the anatomy of a relationship, and how sometimes, it's the decision to get out of your comfort zone that will determine whether your relationship will work, once and for all.
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published October 28th 2014 by Harper (first published 2014)
Format read: ARC via publisher
Alternately funny and heartbreaking, this is a startlingly honest look at the anatomy of one man's relationship that will have readers reflecting on their own lives and loves, and how life may begin again at any age.
The timing couldn't be worse. Hoping to encourage her son's artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world's greatest works of art as a family, and she can't bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best, anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and may even help him to bond with Albie.
Narrated from Douglas's endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view, Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves and learning how to get closer to a son who's always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls's gifted hands, Douglas's odyssey brings Europe--from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the cafes of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona--to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around?
(Also, a five-year wait for a new David Nicholls book = absolutely worth it!)
In his latest title, Nicholls introducers us to Douglas, a bumbling, mild-mannered biochemist who studies the evolution of the fruit fly. He's stable and reliable, and prefers for his life to also be that way. But when his wife of more than thirty years announces that she wants a separation on the eve of a family trip across Europe, Douglas's entire world is thrown for a loop.
There are many things that Nicholls does well throughout Us, but it's his ability to cut to the heart of the relationship between Connie and Douglas that serves as the driving force of the novel. Through intermittent flashbacks, interspersed with Douglas's wry but hopeful observations as the family embarks on an awkward journey across the Continent, we see how Connie and Douglas have gotten to this point in their lives.
There's nothing especially remarkable or telling about their journey; Connie and Douglas are two people who happened to meet at the right place and the right time, overcoming personal differences and the emotional obstacles of early life, to hit the even keel of middle-class predictability cherished by Douglas, and disliked by Connie and seventeen-year-old son Albie.
However, it's Douglas's love of that day-to-day repetition, partially inherited by his stolid (and occasionally emotionally repressed) father, which makes him so compelling. Even as readers see his struggle with Connie and Albie's desire for the unexpected, or make sense of the more flashy elements of life, Douglas is always likable and understandable. He's that voice which undoubtedly exists inside each and every one of us, which questions just why things fall together in a certain way for other people, and whether it's just us that's out of sync with everyone else.
As the ragtag family of three work their way through Europe, coping with a tense relationship between father and son, and a Connie determined to go against Douglas's tightly-packed agendas, readers will be moved and bemused to see just what lengths Douglas is willing to go to outside of his element, to try and win his family back.
Outside of his dissection of Connie and Douglas's relationship, Nicholls also does a fine job of assessing the challenges of modern parenthood, with a multitude of sly, painfully funny observations on how much of a challenge it is to be a stoic, undemonstrative man in an increasingly demonstrative world.
Ultimately, while things may not go according to Douglas's plan, the reader can't help but feel that he's still a hero in the end. He's broken past his own inhibitions in the name of his family, showing a love and a sensibility that will undoubtedly continue to bind the family together.
There's a certain understanding between Douglas and the reader throughout the book, as we navigate the ups and downs of his relationship with Connie. We recognize ourselves in every step of their courtship, from the initial nerves at impressing a new lover to the somber realization that the ending a relationship will never be an equal venture.
It's this understanding of how while we may never know what goes on beyond closed doors, but still have more in common with our fellow man, that makes this a quiet but absolutely remarkable book. With each revelation, every heartbreaking moment and the occasional grand gesture intertwined with their Grand Tour of Europe, Douglas, Connie and Albie will make their way into hearts of readers everywhere.
I highly recommend this book for fans of Nicholls, but also for readers who are looking for a book that genuinely understands what a real relationship is, and how people will continue to love in different ways.
About the author:
David Nicholls’s most recent novel, the New York Times bestseller One Day, has sold over 2 million copies and been translated into thirty-seven languages; he wrote the screenplay for the 2010 film adaptation starring Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway. Trained as an actor before making the switch to writing, Nicholls’s previous novels include Starter for Ten (adapted into a film starring James McAvoy, for which Nicholls also wrote the screenplay) and The Understudy. He continues to write for film and TV as well as writing novels and adapting them for the screen, and has twice been nominated for BAFTA awards. He lives in London with his wife and two children.