Us by David Nicholls was a book group choice (there are 7 of us in the group who meet once a month), picked by another member who loved many of his other novels. I’ve read a few of them myself and really enjoyed them, and had heard a lot about Nicholl’s new novel (which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize too!). It seems like a great story and we all felt like it was well worth buying in hardback!
‘I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’
‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’
Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home.
He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.
So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.
The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.
What could possibly go wrong?
Firstly, though this book is so well written, it is easy to read and I ploughed through it in a matter of days as I just enjoyed it so much! For me it had the perfect blend of relationships/love, travel, sad moments and humour. Most of the group also felt the same, though two members said they found it dry and boring, which I have to say really surprised me having enjoyed it so much myself! They commented that they felt there was too much art in the novel which they just weren’t interested in, and I suppose there was a fair amount included; in each city there was a main piece of art that Douglas mentions and focuses on which seems to reflect the mood of the novel. I won’t give any more away than this but I really felt like the inclusion of the art added to the story.
Nicholls takes the reader on a whirlwind of galleries, museums, tourist attractions and even a prostitute’s house, but it still feels so real when reading about it and I often felt like I was right there with him- despite sadly not having been to quite a few of the cities myself. A fellow book group member had visited all of them, though, and said that added to her enjoyment of the book even more, as she recognised significant landmarks and buildings from her own travels!
The characters are so engaging and interesting, and seem like people you’d actually know in real life. Connie and Douglas’ relationship seems to go through ups and downs that I imagine any relationship must do (though with some notable exceptions!) and their relationship with their teenage son is testing at times. The ‘Us’ could refer to any of their relationships and they all feel like a real relationship; not over-dramatised or too sugar-coated but just real. Some of the big revelations are relayed by Douglas to the reader in such as flippant, casual way that I had to re-read some sentences to check I’d understood them properly!
My sympathy swung between feeling sorry for both Connie and Douglas at times towards the start of the book but as the novel goes on my sympathy for Connie rapidly decreases. It did make me question whether I could see any of the characters in myself and how much they were both to blame for Connie’s wish to end their relationship. Albie is an interesting character too with his surliness and angst towards Douglas, and you can see that Douglas has messed up at times to make him feel this way.
The story was very witty and humorous at times but at times the upbeat nature turned rapidly to quite sad and poignant- from when I started reading Us it didn’t take me long to start blubbing, but then if I enjoy a book I always get very involved in the characters and their highs and lows- really this is a sign of a book highly enjoyed!
I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.