Us follows the story of Douglas, a 54 year old biochemist, who is told by his wife of 25 years, and love of his life, that she thinks she wants to end their marriage. Douglas is determined to save their marriage and the respect of his 17 year old son Albie, as the family embark on a pre-booked, grand tour of Europe. This hilarious and heart breaking story explores what happens after the love story, a complex and slightly awkward topic, with insightful precision.
Written with simplicity and frankness, the narrative consists on mini chapters with teasing, witty titles that explore both the present and the past. This structure helped the novel to be fast-paced and a real page-turner. The novel was extremely funny; I laughed with Douglas through his blunt, dry storytelling of his adventures and efforts, and I laughed at him as he made classic ‘dad’ mistakes, over and over. The novel did not shy away from upsetting topics however, as we spasmodically learned about extremely difficult situations that Douglas and Connie had overcome together. Above all, the novel was affecting and, often painfully, real.
I loved reading about both Douglas and Connie; Douglas is a meticulously organised and self-admittedly passionless man, while Connie is impulsive, artistic and flamboyant. Throughout the course of the novel we learn about their past experiences and travels, their families, their fashion senses, and what they like to read and listen to and discuss and eat. I really got a sense of two well rounded, believable characters, who were consistent with, yet understandably different to, their younger and older selves. I could relate to both characters on different levels, and sympathised with their flaws.
Another highlight of the book for me was its exploration of culture. The whole novel was full of delightful descriptions of all the European cities the family visited, the hotels they stayed in, the food they ate, and the museums and galleries they visited. More subtly than this, we also had insight into different pieces of art, music and literature, and the varying perspectives on these held by different characters. Not only was the novel rich and vibrant, it was also skilfully educational.
Overall, David Nicholls did an incredible job of making this novel incredibly funny and incredibly sad. The family dynamic was captured perfectly; there were many situations and conversations that were entirely familiar to me, and I loved how real this novel felt.