A book review of Us
After finishing Game of Thrones I dove straight into the widely talked about book titled Us by David Nicholls. For me, it was a slow starter. The change of pace took quite a while to get used to but after forgetting about the action filled page turner that was Game of Thrones, I soon began to enjoy reading the story about Douglas Peterson.
Us is a story about a family from the point of view of father and husband, Douglas Peterson. Connie, his wife and Albie his 17 year old son embark on ‘The Grand Tour’ – A trip of a lifetime around Europe by interrail. Like its predecessor (One Day), this is a love story. A love story that revolves around a situation that could quite possibly be familiar to many middle-aged readers. The foundation of the problem Douglas faces throughout the book is presented to the reader at the very beginning, when his wife announces that she may want a divorce. Her reasoning…Albie is about to leave for University.
Through Douglas’ eyes you witness the famous European cities of Paris, Amsterdam, Venice and Madrid…oh and not forgetting his hometown London. He (well I should say David Nicholls) definitely has a way of painting a picture of what each city is like and how it feels to walk the streets as a tourist. I found the story itself interesting but also informative. I am heading to Amsterdam soon so I was very intrigued by those chapters.
The book is riddled with a sense of sadness and regret but also provides snippets of comic relief, especially when Douglas describes their time in Amsterdam. Booked into a sex hotel, triggering a domino effect of bikes falling to the ground and narrowly escaping a beating due to being rescued by a prostitute, before having a break down in her room in the red-light district…you can’t help but laugh. You can almost imagine it featuring as a scene from Mr Bean’s Holiday.
It is however a tragic love story full of emotional twists and I found myself feeling incredibly sorry for the guy. Throughout the trip Douglas depicts key incidents in his life as a way of trying to understand how he has ended up in the possession he is in. It appears that just by doing what he has always done, being the way he has always been due to the way he was brought up, has resulted in an inability for him to connect with his only child. Culminating to the downfall of his marriage due to his wife’s realisation that they are ultimately polar opposites.
It is as though, just like the way he intensely reads and dictates guide books, he has digested a rule book on life…how things should be done. Not all 17 year olds follow the rules. His wife didn’t at that age which is why she can connect with her son. Douglas has always done what is expected of him, resulting in a lack of understanding towards a teenager who is trying to figure out who he is.
I was moved by Doughlas’ attempts to make his wife fall in love with him again but it was his relationship with his son that I found the most heartbreaking. I have grown up with two parents that I can class as my best friends. Therefore reading about a parent and child relationship that is the complete opposite of what I know myself was eye opening. Perhaps that is why I was compelled to read on. In an attempt to gain an understanding of what it may have been like if I had not gotten along with either of my parents. I guess I felt very blessed whilst reading the book. I can’t imagine and hope I never have to feel what it must be like to be a parent to a child who lacks respect towards someone that just loves them but finds it hard to show it.
It is awkward and you cringe at Douglas’ confessions of how he has previously dealt with situations regarding his son. He knows that he has become a grumpy and disapproving father but in many ways it appears as though it was unavoidable due to the difficulties Albie bestowed upon this relationship. ‘The state of your room, it’s as if you do it deliberately to annoy me.’ Nonetheless he confesses to his faults.
What also makes you sympathise with the old guy is the way he describes his love for Connie. I always think that it is hard to truly know, for sure, how someone feels for you, despite them telling you that they love you. To see reasons written into sentences, like they are in this book, is what is needed sometimes. I always think that having a person write down their feelings for another in a card or love letter demonstrates a great deal. It takes time to formulate the right things to say and how to say them. That is why I think it stands for more than them just telling you they love you everyday. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. I’d love for someone to one day describe their love for me like Douglas has for Connie. ‘I don’t mean to strike an inappropriate note, but few things have ever made me happier in life than the sight of Connie’s underwear drying on my radiator.’ The simplicity of this statement says a lot.
Empathy towards Douglas and the family as a whole is what I felt whilst reading this book. I’m not going to pretend to be a professional reviewer by add in a downside to it all because quite frankly, despite the rocky start, I loved it. That is down to David Nichols’ incredible ability to create a character that feels real and true. Without knowing anything about the author’s life it made me question whether he is writing more of a biography than a fictional piece. I couldn’t help but feel deflated when it ended up with them ‘Haggling over milk teeth’.