David Nicholls – Us * Man Booker Prize 2014

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I found this lovely book in the charity pile and I was wondering why. I mean, Man Booker Prize winners should not really reside in Charity Bins at the local shops. Maybe someone did a clearout and didn’t really like the cover? As I continued reading I realised what had happened. The person who donated this book thought it wasn’t quite ready for the fire pit and wanted another poor soul to be tortured by the boring life of a middle-aged man.

Other books by this author: One Day – David Nicholls Book Review

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.

The Good: There aren’t many books out there where the first-person narrator is actually an intelligent but boring man. He’s a chemist, he knows little of love and communication but he’s devoted to his wife and loves his son, even though he can’t really understand him.

I also loved the travel-blog – with the frequent stops in all the great cultural places around Europe: Paris with the museums and the tourists, Venice – with the arts, foods and the tourists, Verona – with the statue of Juliet and the tourists. I think they travelled to every single tourist trap on the map.

The book’s only redeeming quality is its ability to act as a tour book for someone who has never travelled abroad. It’s detailed and spends some time explaining the good and the bad about every city they tour in.

The Bad: The frequent flashbacks peppered with spoilers. I knew their daughter died at the start of the book so when the time came, it was only a matter of how and not what! The love story is pretty mundane: guy falls in love with eccentric artist who brings joy to his life but she can’t handle his stiff manner and decides to dump him once their son had gone to college. Not even a near-death-experience can make his wife take him back.

“From an evolutionary point of view, most emotions – fear, desire, anger – serve some practical purpose, but nostalgia is a useless, futile thing because it is a longing for something that is permanently lost . . . .”

The book is oddly poetic though and despites its shortcomings as a novel, it fares well on the prose part. It would have been a better book had it shown sides from Connie, Albie and even other tourists they meet. But because we’re stuck with the dullard of the group, we have a dull story to trudge through, filled with sentiment and introspection.

Connie…she looks down on her husband with derision throughout the entire novel. Any expression of affection is done in a pitying way. Even during flashbacks, where we supposedly see the days they were the most happiest, she’s a stuck up woman who thinks Douglas is merely cute and clever. Whereas Douglas is just besotted, and perpetually in a can’t-believe-a-woman-this-beautiful-could-be-into-me state of mind.

When Douglas messes up, Connie and Albie join in on shaking their heads, locking their doors, shutting him out. At no point in the novel did I sympathize with either of them. Why would Douglas want to keep these kind of poisonous relationships around, is what I actually thought at one point. Bad, I know.

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