Us by David Nicholls

Us‘Us’ by David Nicholls tells the story of Douglas Petersen, a middle-aged biochemist whose wife, Connie, suddenly announces that she thinks their marriage of twenty years has “run its course” and that she wants to leave him. Despite their problems, the couple set off on their long-planned family holiday touring western Europe with their teenage son, Albie, before he leaves home to study at university. However, Douglas hopes the trip will help him win Connie back and convince her to save their marriage.

Five years on from the enormous success of ‘One Day’, Nicholls returns with ‘Us’, a novel which defies straightforward categorisation in many ways. It is a character-driven story which has literary appeal although there was some surprise when it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize earlier this year. It is a romantic comedy but not a particularly light one. As the main protagonist is in his mid-fifties, maybe ‘Us’ would be best described as a coming-of-middle-age story rather than a coming-of-age story. Either way, Nicholls successfully blends the romantic, comic and literary elements of ‘Us’ into something which is certain to have widespread appeal, especially for those who enjoyed ‘One Day’ and the equally brilliant ‘Starter for Ten’.

The voice of Douglas is engaging and consistent throughout the novel as he puzzles over his teenage son’s disdain towards him and reflects upon his relationship with Connie. Douglas is mostly serious, pedantic and unadventurous while Connie is more impulsive and bohemian and has a much closer bond with their son. Douglas is very reliable but, somewhat ironically, he soon turns out to be a pleasingly unreliable and sometimes frustrating narrator which results in him unwittingly revealing further complexities in his character.

‘Us’ follows the Petersen’s journey through Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Venice, Siena, Madrid and Barcelona. Meanwhile, their Grand Tour of Europe is interspersed with numerous flashbacks of Douglas and Connie’s relationship including how they met at a party in Balham, the sudden death of their first child and the dynamics of their marriage in more recent years. Some readers might be pleased to hear that the ending of ‘Us’ isn’t as brutal as the ending of ‘One Day’ but it is more confronting than I initially expected it to be.

‘Us’ was a surprise addition to this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist but very much deserved its place. Although I don’t think it quite delivers the same emotional punch of ‘One Day’, it is a lovely, intelligently written story which is simultaneously poignant, funny and honest.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Us by David Nicholls

  1. Well, I didn’t really need another book on my nightstand table, but you’ve sold me on this one! Thank you as always for the very thoughtful review. Please stop in at BaconOnTheBookshelf.com sometime! I’d love to be a resource for you across the pond! All the best, ~Jennifer

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  2. I’ve been looking forward to Nicholl’s next book! I’m glad to hear you thought it merited the Booker longlist nomination. It’s on my TBR list now.

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  3. Very much looking forward to reading this one. Excellent review – I particularly liked your ‘coming-of-middle-age’ description!

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  4. I read One Day earlier this year, and absolutely loved it, so I’m definitely interested in reading Us as well, especially after reading your review!

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  5. This one is on my TBR pile. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  6. hollycooksthebooks

    Sounds good! One to add to my list… thanks for the review 🙂

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  7. Looks like I might have to pick this one up after all. I was really hesitant but I like the way you’ve spoken about it.

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  8. I’m in the middle of this one right now and really enjoying it! I love Douglas’s voice and the characters feel very real and vivid to me. I have not read One Day but am happy to hear that it may be even more compelling than Us.

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  9. I’ve not read any of his yet. I think I will now, thanks.

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  10. I wasn’t sure whether or not to read this one but you’re review has persuaded me that this should be added to the TBR after all. 🙂

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  11. Pingback: New Books Coming Soon in 2015 | A Little Blog of Books

  12. Pingback: The Man Booker Prize 2015 Longlist | A Little Blog of Books

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