But Douglas is going to win back the love of his wife and the respect of Albie, their teenage son, but organising the holiday of a lifetime.
He has booked the hotels, bought the train tickets, planned and printed the itinerary for a ‘grand tour’ of the great art galleries of Europe.
What could possibly go wrong?
First published: 2014
At the start of last year, I read David Nicholl’s best known work, One Day, and absolutely loved it. It was one of my favourite reads of 2014, even though it also broke my heart in about a million pieces. When I heard about Us coming out, I immediately thought “I need to read that” but I forgot about it soon after, until I encountered it on my trip to London in May this year. It was on sale everywhere so there really was no way around it. Obviously, I picked it up, and I read it a few weeks ago. Did I like it as much as One Day? No. Was it an excellent book? Yes. Definitely.
The story of Us is told in short, unchronological chapters, which has both its pros and its cons. I’m usually a fan of short chapters – it makes a book more accessible to me for some reason and it stimulates to read on more than long chapters do. However, the fact that these chapters were so short and unchronological, following each other in an almost (probably deliberate) haphazard manner, made it a little hard for at first to really get into the story and connect with the characters. It took me close to a hundred pages to feel truly invested in the story. That isn’t to say I didn’t like the book before that because I really did. This book is very character driven, though, so it was quite important to actually care about them, which eventually I did.
Nicholls has a way of making a story seem entirely authentic and realistic. I know its fiction, but all the tiny little details he adds to the story make me believe in it. At one point Douglas, through whose eyes the entire story is told, talks about the differences between him and Connie, the different habits they both have and he starts to sum some of them up:
Connie likes a manual toothbrush, I swear by electric. Connie talkks on the phone for hours, I am brief and to the point. Connie carves a roast chicken like a surgeon, I make excellent stews […] Connie dislikes mugs but rarely uses a saucer with a teacup, habitually burns toast, hates having her ears touched or whispered into, licks jam off her knife, chews ice-cubes and sometimes, shockingly to me, eats raw bacon off the chopping board.
While here these details are very clearly mentioned since they appear in a sort of list, little details like these can be found throughout the entire book. It’s little things like that that make me really like and connect with a book and its characters, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I loved Us.
The character building, while a bit slow, is magnificently done, as I expected from Nicholls after reading One Day. Douglas, Connie and Albie are all so well-rounded, and you get to know them bit by bit. This also slowly introduced the dilemma of whether or not I liked Douglas and felt sorry for him for the way he was treated. At first I did feel sorry for him, but as you get to know more of the story and the history of this family, I started to have my doubts about Douglas. It’s clear from the start he tries way too hard to get his son to like him (and to win back Connie). I kept wondering why Albie dislikes his father so strongly and my first thought was it must have been puberty talking. But as I found out more about Douglas and the way he treated Albie in the past, I started to realise that I would absolutely hate having him as a father. In my eyes, Albie has every right to bear a grudge and it was interesting to see how their relationship developed.
Us tells the story of Douglas and Connie – how they met, how they fell in love and how they built a life and family together despite certain hardships and differences. Like I said earlier, Nicholls manages to paint an extremely realistic picture of these two people and it was only fitting, therefore, that the ending is as realistic as the rest of the story. It’s a very strong ending and I was really impressed by it, even though I hadn’t expected anything less from Nicholls. While for me it didn’t have the magic of One Day, I would most certainly recommend reading Us to anyone who likes a realistic contemporary novel. It definitely didn’t disappoint!