It’s rare to find a romantic comedy that maintains a sense of reality – but this is what Nicholls has achieved.
Who’s it for:
One for the adults, particularly the married ones
It’ll take you:
This is a a long but easy read. 400 pages.
What the backcover says:
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 to bond with Albie.
What I say:
Us is a real crowd pleaser – funny, sad, witty, poignant – there’s little not to like about this book.
Does that sound flippant? It shouldn’t. For author, David Nicholls, has achieved that rare beast – a romantic comedy, with intelligence.
While the narrative begins with a marriage in crisis (“I think our marriage has run its course, she said.”) Us actually provides us with the complete arc of the relationship – the falling in love, the falling out of love and the numerous peaks, valley and plateaus in between.
Douglas is an ‘everyman’ hero – a badminton-playing, emotionally inhibited biochemist. But there’s a kind of heroicism in his ordinariness; after 30 years of marriage, he still loves Connie deeply and has settled happily into the saggy sofa of middle-aged life.
That they are still married at all is somewhat of a surprise. On the surface, free-wheeling Connie seems a total mis-match for her stitched-up husband, and this is perhaps one of the book’s only flaws – that we never quite understand what Connie saw in Douglas in the first place.
But it’s a minor gripe.
Nicholls imbues his main character with wit, intelligence, self-deprecating humour and, most importantly, insight. He is, there is no doubt, a dag. But he is a dag who notices things. Light travels differently in a room that contains another person; it reflects and refracts so that even when she was silent or sleeping I knew that she was there. I loved the evidence of her past presence, and the promise of her return…
Hollywood adapted one of Nicholls’ previous books One Day into a major film starring Anne Hathaway. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same happens to Us, as the writing is very visual, and the dialogue is smartly scripted.
Fortunately, that’s where the movie comparisons finish. The end of this novel both satisfies and resonates but I know Hollywood would have scripted it differently.