I, like everyone who read and enjoyed David Nicholls’ international bestseller, One Day, was jumping at the bit to get my hands on this new novel by Mr Nicholls, especially as it was short-listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize.
So what did I think?
‘Us’ is a story of Douglas and Connie, a couple whose only son is about to leave home for college, an event which in turn triggers a crisis in the marriage.
Douglas, a successful scientist, sees a chance to save his marriage to Connie, a failed artist, by taking her and their son on a Grand Tour of Europe. This epic journey, which has been meticulously planned by the obsessively organised Douglas, (laminated maps, hotels and train fares booked well in advance) also serves as a means to regain the respect of Douglas’ son, the sullen Albie, whose idea of a good holiday is two weeks in Ibiza with his friends, rather than spending it with his bickering parents.
As you may imagine, the trip doesn’t quite go to plan. Already on the train to Paris, Douglas, who has promised himself to be relaxed, becomes annoyed when Albie spends the whole of the journey either taking photos of train tracks, or sleeping, and so missing the whole excitement of the first leg of the Grand Tour. Albie wants to study photography, while Douglas thinks he should take a proper (preferably science) subject and not ‘devote his life to a hobby’. It now occurs to Douglas that his son has not once taken a picture of his father, while there are several loving portraits of Connie in Albie’s collection.
Soon we realise that it’s the relationship between father and son which is the root of the marriage crisis.
Or is it?
Opposites attract, they say, and in this honest examination of a modern marrage and parenthood, David Nicholls puts this theory to a test. What if the differences between the couple, which so attracted the pair to each other at the beginning of the relationship, become the bones of constant rowing and dissatisfaction later in life?
‘Us’ is written from the point of view of Douglas, so we don’t get much of a glimpse into the minds of the artistic, disorganised, lazzer-fair parent, Connie, or the teenager Albie. But what we do get is an almost detached account of the small – and large – tragedies that two decades of marriage have thrown at this couple. And we get a lovely account of a journey around Europe – not perhaps a traditional holiday trip, but there are many beautiful descriptions of classic art pieces. Enough to make me want to take my family on a Grand Tour – or perhaps that’s not such a good idea after all…
I enjoyed ‘Us’, and feel it was properly justified in being nominated for the Booker. Shame it didn’t make it beyond the first round.
Published by Hodder Stoughton
£6.99 Kindle edition