Book Review: Us by David Nicholls

Plot:

Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen-year-old son, Albie; then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

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 might even help him 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. 

Review:

The novel is largely told by Douglas Petersen, a middle-aged Englishman leading what to him is a comfortable, ordered life in the countryside with his wife Connie and their son Albie, who will be going off to University in the fall. Faced with the looming prospect of being “empty nesters”, Douglas’ sense of self and solidity is rocked to their roots by his wife’s admission one night that she wants out of their marriage. Douglas is at a total loss. His reply: “I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.” But Connie’s perspective on marriage is not as absolute. “Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?”

Prior to Connie’s disclosure, Douglas had planned for the family what he hoped would be a fun and rewarding family summer holiday in Europe. The Grand Tour, the last that he, Connie, and Albie would likely share together. He hoped that through this shared experience he and Connie would grow closer together and rediscover what it was that brought both of them together almost 25 years earlier. (With some considerable persuading, Douglas gets Connie and Albie to go along with his plan and the 3 of them set out for Europe, with Paris as the springboard.)

Nicholls is a very clever writer and uses his paragraphs well, introducing through them subtle time shifts throughout the novel that show the beginnings, the progression, and the ups and downs experienced by married couples.

There are some unexpected twists that come up in the novel, which made it deeply compelling at times. Any reader who loves stories about people struggling and persevering against life’s slings and arrows will find solace in reading this novel. Love David’s writing [especially One Day]

3/5 Stars

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