Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Us by David Nicholls
On the front cover, Us is introduced as being by the writer of One Day. For many that would have been enough incentive to read it. It won me over too. However, I’ll try to refrain from comparing the two because, although both stories follow the course of a relationship, they are quite different.
What Nicholls does in this novel, which is a technique he has absolutely mastered, is to use a lot of back story to fuel the present narrative. There are not many writers who can get away with this. The term ‘drowning in back story is a common criticism of many new writers and so most learn to skirt over the moments and events that have precluded the present. When you read Us you realise how important back story can be when executed well.
The story begins with middle-aged Douglas waking up to his wife, Connie, telling him she wishes to separate. There’s been no affair, no dramas, no particular heartache and yet Connie simply wants a different life. It’s amazing how often this happens, particularly when children are about to leave home, as is the case in this novel. Yet, it’s not a story often told. Perhaps because it’s not as exciting a narrative as betrayal, secrets and lies. Determined to fix his marriage Douglas insists he and his wife embark upon a ‘grand tour’ across Europe with their 17-year-old-son, who’d rather do anything else.
What resonates with the way this story is told is that what you sense the protagonist wants through the novel may not be what they need. This is what’s relatable about the book. What rings so true of real life. That it isn’t about dramatic realisations and hero type resolutions but about the time it takes and the many many small moments that lead us to where we should be.
Although I wouldn’t list this as one of those life-changing novels, I definitely enjoyed it. It was beautiful in its relatability. Despite quite a few moments where you struggle to empathise with the main character due to his painful habit of putting his foot in it, the story is heartwarming, often funny and delicately poignant.
Have you read Us? What did you think? Please subscribe to share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.