SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: US BY DAVID NICHOLLS

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet). 

‘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?’

Having just finished One Day, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was excited to receive a copy of Us by David Nicholls. The blurb, which hinted at troubled family dynamics mixed with laughter, was enough to convince me that this was a book I wanted to read. Sooner rather than later. Here’s the blurb:

David Nicholls brings to bear all the wit and intelligence that graced One Day in this brilliant, bittersweet novel about love and family, husbands and wives, parents and children. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014. 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?

Nicholls has delivered another terrific read with Us, though it’s not the same warm-fuzzy, tear-jerking kind of love story as One Day, both in style and feel. The first-person narrative moves between past and present, inviting readers into the timeline of Douglas’ and Connie’s relationship (all through Douglas’ eyes) as he comes to terms with the idea that his wife wants to move on. His almost self-righteous sense of indignation, shock and desperate need to make things right (if he can figure out what they are) as the book opens develops into a wiser and more aware sense of self. It’s not only his relationship with his wife that is faltering, he realises; his relationship with his teenage son, who he loves but can’t quite hide his disapproval for, is also in need of attention. Douglas’ acceptance that not everything can be ordered or controlled, especially teenagers, is a key turning point.

While there’s an inevitability about aspects of Us, the novel provides readers with plenty of laughs as Douglas tries to force fun and spontaneity onto himself and others, and the bittersweet Grand Tour of Europe does not go at all as planned. I laughed out loud several times. Here’s a snippet:

‘Dad,’ asked Albie, ‘have you booked us into a sex hotel?’ and they began to laugh convulsively as I fumbled with the key to our room – which I noticed, was called the ‘Venus in Furs’ suite, while Albie was in ‘Delta of Venus’ next door.

‘It’s not a sex hotel, it’s “boutique”!’ I insisted.

A solid exploration of marriage over time, Us is poignant, thoughtful and funny. I really enjoyed it.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. My copy was courtesy of Hachette Australia.