Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Year in Books: December 'Us' by David Nicholls

I've been neglecting the blog recently: it's three weeks since my last post.  I've been trying to think why as I'm not really any busier than usual.  Mainly it's because I've been hibernating!  I sleep much more when it's dark or even if I don't sleep I spend more time in bed as it's too cold to get up.  This is a good thing, I suppose, as I generally feel less stressed and grumpy after a good night's sleep, but I do miss the long quiet weekend mornings I get in summer when I wake at 6am and can blog undisturbed by the rest of the family.  But I'm up earlyish this morning and joining again with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for the Year in Books, my favourite link up.

My November read was the Booker nominated 'Us' by David Nicholls, pictured above.  I had high hopes for this novel, having enjoyed 'One Day' a lot.  Reviews were good and the subject matter appealed to me as he was writing about the marriage a couple in their 50's with one teenage child.  Now I am not so narrow in my reading habits to simply want to read about people like me but, even so, the similarity to my own family situation did appeal.  I'd expected, and hoped for, a book which explored the complexity of a long term relationship from both sides.  Unfortunately I was disappointed, as it really doesn't do this at all.

'Us' is written from the perspective of Douglas Petersen whose wife announces in that she thinks their marriage has run its course and she intends to leave him when their son goes off to university.  He desperately wants to keep her and plans a long road trip to Europe for the family, a kind of Grand Tour, visiting key works of art in major cities, in the hope of saving their marriage.  Douglas is socially awkward and introverted whereas Connie is his opposite: attractive, amusing and extrovert, only marrying him in the first place because she needed more stability than her previous partner had offered.  Douglas also feels a little jealous of his wife's close relationship with their son, Albie.  He has a rather troubled relationship with his son and the book is as much about this as it is about the marriage.  Douglas tries hard as a parent, advising his son and doing the things he thinks he ought to do such as forcing him to eat his greens, doing his maths homework with him and encouraging him build Lego according to the instructions. He doesn't understand his son's distress when he 'helps' by gluing the completed Lego models together.  Albie turns out to be more a of free spirit with artistic leanings like his mother and he falls out spectacularly with his father during the trip, going off travelling with a girl he met busking.  Much of the book tells of Douglas's attempt to find his son and bring him home.

It was all very readable and you cannot help but sympathise for poor Douglas.  I was reminded a little of Harold Fry from Rachel Joyce's book.  My problem with it was that I expected something different.  As a portrait of a marriage in crisis it failed: it was too one-sided.  We don't get to know Connie at all: she seems too perfect and all the 'blame' for the relationship breakdown is heaped on Douglas.  There are much better portrayals of long term relationships in crisis in Ian McEwan's novels. Both 'Enduring Love' and 'The Child in Time'  do this well.   Also it just didn't ring true - Douglas and Connie are just too nice too each other when breaking up.  From what I have seen in observing friends and acquaintances going through divorce, it's rarely 'amicable'.

So for my last book of the year, I'm avoiding the best seller list and going for a book lots of people have recommended, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving.  I hope it's good as recent books I have chosen have failed to meet my expectations.


  1. Interesting to read your thoughts on 'Us' - I've been hearing about it now and thinking I should track it down. I haven't read 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' but have loved other John Irving novels in the past. Many of the books I love aren't on the best seller list, it's all very subjective isn't it?!

  2. What a lovely post, thank you for sharing your thoughts on 'us' it's a book I have looked at but decided wasn't for me.
    I also feel like hibernating in the shorter darker days of winter, it's simply to dark and cold outside .

  3. A interesting write up, I haven't heard of David Nicholls. I hope you enjoy the Irving, I have never read any of his burn have heard lots about him, will be interested to know what you make of it.

  4. I have read everything by David Nicholls - I really enjoy his writing, and I am still looking forward to reading this - it's going to be my holiday read! x

  5. It is funny how some books just don't turn out to be what you thought they would be, or hoped they would be isn't it. I guess that it is more about the struggle between the father and sons relationship even though it appears to be about the mothers journey. I hope that you enjoy your December read. xx

  6. Haven't read any Nicholls yet, but will definitely give him a go.
    I won't be posting for a while - other projects are taking up my time, but that's okay for the moment. Undoubtedly I will be back with a vengence sometime in 2015 :-)
    Really looking forward to meeting up in Feb. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year in the meantime xxx

  7. Good on you for sticking with it and actually finishing the book. I don't think I could keep reading something I wasn't really enjoying.