As some of you may recall, earlier this year I challenged myself to read four of the unread books on my bookshelf this year. It seemed like a reasonable task, way back in March, however now – as we prepare to enter the 9th month of the year (HOW is that possible?!) – I’m not so sure I’m going to make it. Particularly as I only just got round to finishing Us by David Nicholls. That aside, here’s my review of Us. Enjoy!
You may find the name David Nicholls familiar – he is after all the author of One Day perhaps one the most beautiful yet totally heart-wrenching romance novels I’ve ever read. (It was turned into a pretty decent movie too, although unfortunately featuring a painfully bad northern accent from Anne Hathaway.) I LOVED One Day so I picked up Us hoping to love and laugh and cry as I had with Nicholls’ previous novel. And I did – in a way – but for me, Us was not the book I hoped it would be.
The novel is narrated by Douglas Petersen, a man in his early- to mid-fifties, married to a flamboyant, artistic woman called Connie, with whom he has a teenage son by the name of Albie. Douglas is in the throes of preparing for a Europe-wide summer holiday with his family – they decided on it months ago – when Connie turns round in bed and tells him she thinks she wants a divorce. We are then taken on a journey, narrated by Douglas, covering Douglas’ last ditch attempt to win back his wife on their European tour and interspersed with memories of how he and Connie came to meet, fall in love, get married and navigate life’s challenges together.
One of the things I absolutely loved about this story was that it is written from the point of view of a middle-aged, slightly insecure man – not something that often happens from what I’ve read. Douglas is well aware that in dating and marrying Connie, he has been punching above his weight, but he is happy and frankly besotted with her. He cannot imagine life without her. As we travel through their memories, learning about the trials and challenges they have faced together, it’s hardly surprising that Douglas adores his wife. He never thought he would end up with someone quite like her.
While this narrative style drew me into the story in the first place, it became the device that also made me struggle to complete the novel. I reached a point in their rather haphazard adventure and Douglas’ humour where I was bored of Douglas, bored of his obsession with Connie, bored of his exactness and irritated by his insecurity and his desperation to try to save his marriage. Even though I was amused by his perception of the world around him and his melo-drama, I desperately wanted to slap Douglas ’round the face. That said, I still found myself willing them to win, to remain together in the end, but also waiting for the gut-wrenching plot twist Nicholls often deals out.
But the plot twist never quite came. Not really, or at least, not in the way I expected having been utterly destroyed by One Day. In Us, through Douglas’ eyes, we are told some pretty heart-breaking stories about their past. The affair, the child that was lost, the ways in which they navigated many of the turbulent times that come in any relationship. And for that I am grateful to Nicholls for doing what he does so well, which is painting a realistic version of life full of love and hate and sadness and suffering and happiness and joy.
Nicholls has a skill of taking you through the very truth of everyday human life. His “romance novels” are more “real life novels”. I genuinely adore that about his writing. And because I love that about his writing I wish I could give Us a more glowing review but, honestly, by the last third of the book I found myself only finishing the story because I needed to have closure on what happened to Connie and Douglas and their son. I was too invested into the characters to be able to leave them – which says a lot about Nicholls’ skills in character development. I needed to know how things turned out – rather like we needed closure in Lost even though, if we were honest, we’d lost interest long before the end.
So yeah, Us, it was ok, but it wasn’t the novel I was hoping it would be.