Saturday, December 6, 2014

Us by David Nicholls (2014)

The narrator of Us is Douglas Peterson, a bioscientist who is woken in the middle of the night by his wife, Connie, telling him she thinks she would like to separate once their 17-year-old son, Albie, leaves for university. Douglas loves Connie, deeply and sincerely, and is unable to cope with that news. He says: "I found the idea of life without her quite unthinkable, unthinkable in the truest sense; I could not picture a future without her by my side" (p379). However, before she leaves Connie and Douglas plan on going on a Grand Tour with Albie, travelling around continental Europe by train. Douglas has a vague plan to use the tour to convince Connie not to leave - he's not sure how but he is convinced he can do it. As the family begin their journey, events in the current day are interspersed with flashbacks recounting the story of Connie and Douglas from his point of view, from the night they met through to the current day.

Us was written by David Nicholls, who wrote the phenomenally successful One Day, which I enjoyed very much. Us, well, not so much. David Nicholls is a very entertaining writer so this book is is incredibly readable - a great beach read, really - but I could not shake off the feeling while I was reading it that this book is just unneccessary. I mean, does the world really need yet another 400 pages of a white middle-aged middle-class male explaining just how misunderstood he is? Surely we, as a reading and writing public, can put a moratorium on that storyline for like 10 years until the memory of all of the other books where a white middle-aged middle-class male complains about being unappreciated fade a little? These men in literature are just so whiny all the time. I mean, after reading 400 pages of Douglas' voice I wasn't surprised Connie was planning on leaving him - I was surprised she'd stayed with him in the first place.

It was quite jarring to read Us immediately following The Rabbit Back Literature Society. For days after finishing the latter I was still turning moments of the story over in my head; reading reviews and thinking about the ideas it raised. I finished Us about 10 hours ago and it's already hard to recall any of the key moments other than the names of the Petersons and that Douglas had an irritating personality. Us is an okay read - unexciting, unnecessary, written well. Three stars.

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