by David Nicholls
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.
It felt like a refreshing change to read a contemporary book from the perspective of a man. Far too many of the books I have read recently have been female orientated and this gave me an endearingly subjective view into the life of Douglas Petersen and his family.
The story follows mild-mannered, well ordered and itinerary mad Douglas, his artistic wife Connie and their moody teenage son Albie on a journey around Europe. “The Grand Tour” as it becomes named, begins in spite of Connie telling Douglas that she is considering a divorce. With the entire trip planned down to the minute, Douglas is determined not to take his wife’s decision lying down and sets out on his own personal challenge of winning back the hearts of his wife and son.
The author, David Nicholls, writes the story in both past and present with Douglas chronicling The Grand Tour while reminiscing about his relationship from the first time he met Connie until present day. However this book was far too long for me, repeating the same themes throughout and extensively detailing things that didn’t add to the story line. Even the ending seemed a little dragged out. I’d happily have ended the story at the end of part 8. Part 9 added very little and didn’t interest me one bit.
Despite the length, I did enjoy the book. Written with wit and charm, I enjoyed reading about the family’s travels and their comedic adventures with the language and food. I was fond of the realistic relationship between Douglas and Connie in the early days, facing parental disapproval and differences in interests and tackling them head on. However I did have an issue with the family dynamic where their son Albie was involved. At times it felt like we were supposed to be viewing Douglas as the enemy, as if he was the cause for everything that went wrong. I took the opposing view, I felt sorry for his character and as the book went on I felt a stronger dislike towards both avant-garde Connie and her son. Why couldn’t they see what Douglas was going through? A son who he couldn’t bond with, a wife who wanted to leave him but still insisted on being with him; it seemed only right to me to favour the father.
After high praise and as a longlisted nomination for the Man Booker Prize, I have recently read that the BBC are making this into a TV series, I will certainly look out for it when it comes out. I’d also love to give some of Nicholls’ other books a read as I know they are highly regarded.
Overall Rating: An enjoyable read about a disastrous “Grand Tour” and the dynamics between the family members who have embarked on it. A light read which is still able to delve into some serious topics. Slightly too dragged out for my liking which scores David Nicholls’ “Us” three stars.