David Nicholls has been one of my favorite writers for years now. I was a fan of his film and TV adaptations before I even realized he was an author as well as a screenwriter. (If you haven’t seen his Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Much Ado About Nothing, do yourself a favor and check them out.) Ever since I devoured One Day, I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for his new book. I was, obviously, insanely thrilled when it showed up early on my doorstep.
Yes, thanks to Goodreads, I won an ARC of David Nicholl’s newest novel, Us.
Us is about a family–Douglas, Connie, and their son, Albie. Before Albie goes off to university, the family has planned a Grand Tour. They’ll travel around Europe, take in all of the art, and spend one last summer together. Douglas, as usual, has everything worked out. He know knows where they’re staying, when they’re traveling, and even has an itinerary (not laminated!).
His plans, however, do not include his wife telling him she wants to separate not long before the vacation is to start. Since she insists on continuing on with their plans, Douglas decides that he will use the Grand Tour to win Connie back.
Very little about the Grand Tour, of course, will go along with Douglas’ well-intentioned itinerary.
Any time I read a favorite author, there’s always that little fear lingering in the back of my mind that maybe the book I’m so excited about will be a stinker. Thankfully, any worry I had over Us was unfounded. I absolutely loved this novel. While it might not be my favorite of David Nicholls’ work (One Day will probably always have my heart), I would say that it is his best written novel to date.
There are no gimmicks this time or Peter Pan-ish young men. This is an adult novel about the troubles inherent in family life. There was a lot of depth here and difficulties experienced by the characters were deeply emotional.
Douglas, for me, was a surprisingly relatable character. He liked home and had a relatively small comfort zone. He wasn’t great around people and had difficulty dealing with people he couldn’t understand. I liked him a lot–even though he could be obtuse at times. It was interesting to see him stretch himself over the course of the novel. I especially liked that, through telling his story, you could slowly see him gain a better understanding of his wife and his son. I liked the slow burn. It gave the story less of a preaching quality than I’ve seen in other novels about similar topics.
His wife, Connie, for me was less likable (mainly because I wouldn’t be able to stand being around her in person). Still, she wasn’t presented as the villain of the story. I understood where she was coming from–even if I didn’t agree with her decision to drop the “I’m leaving you” bomb on her husband not long before their continental vacation.
As for the story of Us, it ever felt rushed or forced or boring. David Nicholls’ writing has a soothing quality to it. It’s poetic without being overtly “literary” in nature (i.e. it doesn’t try too hard to be fancy). Douglas gave the perfect voice to the story. He was straight-forward, occasionally funny (when he wasn’t telling bad jokes), and not too often deluded about his strengths and weaknesses.
I also enjoyed the various settings in the novel. We travel with the characters to many different cities and each have a very distinct sense of place to them. Amsterdam was one of the most interesting stops obviously, (I felt sorry for Douglas’ poor family for having to stay in that boutique hotel), but I also really enjoyed wandering around Barcelona and Venice vicariously.
Us is a beautiful novel. While I always try to make qualifications when I recommend a novel (“If you like this, then you should try this.”), I won’t this time. Us‘ story is one I think will appeal to a lot of people. It’s about family troubles, flawed characters, and hope. Definitely give it a try.