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Us by David Nicholls

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

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Steve Chadderton

396 pages, 180 chapters. This makes for a very easy read, ideal for the pace of modern life, very different to 'War and Peace' for example. Narrated by Douglas, his wife tells him that she is thinking of leaving him and will probably do so after their prearranged cultural tour of Europe with their teenage son. As you would expect, the first half of the book is comedic, but the second half becomes darker after their son decides to continue on his own.

The narrative of their tour is interspersed with reflections of their life together. After their son goes, Douglas reminisces about where he may have gone wrong.

I can't remember reading David Nicholls' previous novel One Day, but I will remember this one.

Clive Hobbs

I found that this book was able to take me along for the ride initially but I nearly gave up when, just in time, my curiosity was piqued by the son abandoning his parents mid holiday. This showed the genius of the author and was just in time to keep me turning the pages.

It helped to be able to relate in some way with the central character and laugh at some of his misfortunes. It also helped to picture some of the scenes especially when they make you feel nostalgic about the locations.

I did feel a little let down in the final analysis but perhaps leaving the reader to imagine a future for Douglas was the best way out.

All in all I wouldn't say that I would seek out further reading by this author, but it was an interesting interlude from my usual fare.

Michael Hornung

The central theme is relationships; between Douglas and Connie, and between both of them and their son Albie. The relationships are well observed, and we feel involved in their stories. The characters are believable; however, the use of a free spirited female artist and a staid, introverted male scientist is rather clichéd.

The story of the relationships is woven around the events of the family’s modern day Grand Tour, an attempt to rescue the marriage which Connie wishes to leave. This interweaving allows Nicholls to produce changes in the mood and pace of the story, enlivening the whole. He ranges from the moving description of the couples’ feelings after the death of their newborn daughter to Douglas’s hilarious battle with a highly spiced Vietnamese soup in Amsterdam.

The tour also involves quick fire art lessons via famous galleries and breathless gallops around a number of European cities. It falls apart but leads to what becomes a mini adventure story as Albie goes off around Europe alone with Douglas in pursuit. The fast paced hunt for Albie contrasts with painful descriptions of the fractured relationship between Douglas and Albie. Douglas is taken ill, the family draws closer. The marriage ends amicably.

Joyce Moylan

I enjoyed this book and thought it was a good read but does not, in my opinion, come under the heading of "unputdownable".

Douglas was a very likeable character, he tried so hard with his arty wife and sort of arty son. Being a biochemist he had a very logical mind and found it quite difficult to fit into his wife's world. The story line is that his wife wants to go her own way after a well-planned holiday - The Grand Tour - organised by Douglas for a culture trip before his son goes off to college. The story line is both past and present, which works very well in understanding the relationship of Douglas and his wife Connie. I thought Connie very selfish and unworthy of the great love that Douglas had for her.

Sandra MacEwan

Us by David Nicholls tells of a marriage in trouble. The main protagonist is Douglas Petersen, a very organised biochemist married to Connie, a more artistic free spirit. Albie is their only child and it is his impending departure for college that precipitates the crisis. This is a situation with which many middle-aged couples could identify.

Narrated by the main character, we realise that in spite of his wry humour and witty one-liners, he is quite stuffy and controlling especially where Albie is concerned. In contrast, Connie is attractive and passionate. Consequently Albie is closer to Connie than to Douglas. Although Connie is the one who, on the very first page, introduces the idea of separation, she seems ambivalent about it, telling Douglas from time to time that she still loves him.

Their pre-arranged Grand Tour goes ahead together with Douglas' hopes of repairing the marriage. However it only highlights the flaws. David Nicholls' descriptions of the various places they pass through create marvellous and vivid settings, adding greatly to the reader's enjoyment. Also the account of the journey is interspersed with flashbacks detailing Douglas and Connie's courtship which even then show how mismatched they were.

Douglas has to contend with experiences out of his comfort zone, culminating in being stung by jellyfish. At this low point, there is a sense that he has learned something about himself which hopefully he will use to good effect in his relationships.

The book's structure is particularly pleasing. Lower case is used for carefully well-chosen titles which encapsulate all that follows in the chapter.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I was very sorry when I reached the end having become engrossed in the lives of the characters.

Sandra Tipper

What a delight. An incredibly witty book with many laugh-out-loud passages - an ideal holiday/leisure read. However, underneath it all there is real pathos and a storyline that many will identify with, the eternal struggle to be a good parent without making all the mistakes your own parents did, but somehow hearing yourself using exactly the same phrases and saying totally the wrong thing.

Poor Douglas, a control-freak biochemist, seems permanently misunderstood by his artistic wife and seventeen year old son. His life falls apart under his feet but he has little comprehension of how or why. The family goes on a “grand tour” holiday and the story follows them across Europe during this trip, which does not go according to the detailed plan Douglas has made for it. Flashbacks relate Douglas and Connie’s life together and insights into their two very different characters. Anyone who has had a teenage son will recognize Albie and his desire to lead his own life, which of course wants to follow an entirely different course to his father’s.

An extremely well written book makes this story flow and makes the reader want to carry on and on reading it.

Terry Dowrick

"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness" observed Samuel Beckett and in 180 mini-chapters, David Nicholls proves the point in his latest novel - Us.

The break-up of a marriage, the disillusionment of middle age and the doubtful joys of parenting an adolescent son are recounted in the first person by the relentlessly "square" Douglas Peterson as he embarks upon a European tour with his "soon to be ex" wife and teenage son.

The narrative has two alternating strands. The first provides an account of the early days of the relationship which leaves one wondering why she ever married him. The second records the progress of their meticulously planned trip to visit the museums and galleries of Europe - for educational purposes of course!

The improbable circumstance of the relationship predicts the inevitable demise of the marriage and as Aldous Huxley observed "Sons have always a rebellious wish to be disillusioned by that which charmed their fathers". Enough said!

While less than challenging as a literary work, the story is capable of amusing, saddening and irritating in equal measure. The multi - chapter construction lends itself to a holiday read which can be put down and resumed again as time permits. In summary, an enjoyable read but prepare to be occasionally exasperated by the relentlessly grey narrator.

Kit Adamson

An easy if slightly frustrating read about a family ( husband, wife and teenage son ) trying to enjoy some together time on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe before the son leaves home for further education and, it transpires , the wife leaves the marriage. The couple appear mismatched from the outset as he, Douglas, appears to be borderline autistic/Aspergers and she, Connie, is rather arty and off beat. The boy Albie or Egg is simply being a self-centred teenager. The tour of European highlights never seems to be of interest to all three at the same time or straightforward and while I could empathise with all of the characters, at times I wanted to give them a good shake!

The ending was left open so I suppose you could make it as happy as you like. Probably worth reading but it wouldn’t be at the top of my list of recommendations.

Maybe 3* out of 5.

Mickey York

Having enjoyed David Nicholls previous book "One Day" I was really looking forward to this new one and I wasn't disappointed.

I notice that the book is dedicated to the author's Father and I couldn't help wondering if it was somewhat autobiographical. Had he, David Nicholls, been the typical teenage boy, unwilling to spend time with a boring parent?

There were some hilarious moments in the book - Douglas in the Red Light district of Amsterdam and the jellyfish episode, for example, when I found myself really laughing out loud. There were also some really detailed descriptions of paintings, which made me wish I could go on a Grand Tour and experience them for myself.

I shall look forward very keenly, to David Nicholls’ next book.

Deirdre Dick

The decision to try and repair a failing marriage by taking a holiday following an itinerary of visiting art galleries in Europe.

This sounds like a brilliant idea written from Douglas’s point of view, exploring Connie’s feelings and the anxiety of the search for their teenage son Albie makes for a funny, sad and enjoyable book.

Sue Cottrell

This was a very different read for me, a book written from a male perspective.

Douglas is in a rut, Connie his wife, Albie his son, have lost all respect for him, he comes across as a sad figure, living and loving in the past. Although still in love with his wife, he seems unable to show this, he seems to expect that she will know just because he is still around. He finds communication difficult, and almost impossible with Albie, not really understanding that all teenagers are like this. He feels pushed out of a relationship with Albie because Connie puts all their problems down to Albie being artistic, and Douglas not making allowances.

It seems strange that she announces she will leave Douglas, but still wants to do The Grand Tour holiday they have planned, almost prolonging the agony of the separation.

I do not feel she realises she is hurting Douglas, as she is not in love with him (if she ever was).

Obviously the loss of their daughter has had a profound effect on their marriage. They as a couple do not seem to have explored each other’s feelings of loss on the matter, and maybe that has made Douglas lose his zest for life, and Connie has found other outlets for hers.

He tries to see the tour as time to rekindle their love from 25 years ago, but tries to save money, at a budget hotel not fit for romance. He really does not get the problems that his wife Connie has come to her decision with.

He is desperate to know his son, Connie wanting the trip to be about him. He on the other hand is a teenager, who does not want to be with them, needing to go off and do his own thing, especially if that involves a female and alcohol. Douglas fails to understand this, and the comedy in Nicholls’ writing comes through as he grapples with the loss of, not only his wife's love, but the lack of respect that they both show him.

This is a sad, funny, well written book about marriage, relationships, lack of communication and intolerance of the individual. A good read from a male perspective, making a pleasant change.

Thank you Viking Book Club

Rowena Hensman

Most books about the ending of a marriage in middle age when the children are leaving home are written by the female perspective, Nicholls’ book is different – written from the male point of view.

Douglas Peterson is a middle-aged scientist, his wife Connie is a mercurial artistic individual whom their son takes after. He has meticulously planned a last big holiday trip to Europe as their last holiday together when his wife announces she wants a divorce. The trip goes ahead, Douglas trying to win the respect of his son and to convince his wife that their relationship is worth keeping.

The book catalogues the trip with seamless flashbacks to the past, when they first met, started going out and moving in together which helps us to understand his view of their life and his thoughts on relationships. Opposites attract but can it survive long term into middle age and beyond?

The son does his own thing, getting into scrapes, a typical teenager worrying his father. Douglas tries to do the right thing for them all as he sees it, whilst seeing his world crumbling around him.

There are many humorous incidents, you feel sad, sorry, wishing to bang their heads together. We have all been there in our own relationships. This is a quiet book, well crafted, a good read.

Karen Lisamore

I started this book full of anticipation as it sounded like it had great potential, however I was very disappointed. To date I haven't finished the book, I'm about half way through it, I will finish it as I always finish what I started.

To me a good book is a book that you find yourself reading every spare minute, or you delay what needs to be done to read another chapter. This book didn't do this for me, it started well and I had sympathy with Douglas as his wife shares her concerns as Albie embarks on his university adventure, I found Connie selfish and she frustrated me and I disliked the way she and Albie isolated Douglas with their quip comments and silliness. I do not speak French and some of the phrases in French I had to "Google" to understand what was being said and this distracted me from the story. Reading the book has become a chore and not a pleasure!

I hope I am one of the minority that didn't enjoy the book, I will not rush to read any more of David Nicholls’ stories.

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