Review: “Us” by David Nicholls

As I explained in my last QOTW, I started reading David Nicholls’ novel Us last Friday. I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings with you because I am still not sure what I think and feel about it so writing it down might help me figure it out. I hope that, despite my indecision, this review still makes some sense, and hopefully, I will have made up my mind by the end of this post.

I decided to divide this review into three parts: plot, characters, and form. Let me know what you think about this organisation in the comments. I promise I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.

Plot

This story is told from the point of view of Douglas Petersen, a fifty-something man who is dealing with his wife’s doubts considering their marriage and his son’s indifference towards him. In this charming atmosphere, they all embark on a Grand Tour of Europe during which Douglas hopes to safeguard his family. As you can expect, things do not really go according to plan and the family is forced to confront its issues. Throughout their journey, Douglas also reminisces about the past, how he met his wife, how his son came to be, and much more.

I am not going to go into more details about the plot because it’s always good to go into a book without a clear image of what you’re going to get. However, I will tell you what I thought about the plot. I loved that this book was a travel book but that you still got to see the characters interact in their ordinary settings through the flashbacks. I loved that there was a beginning and a conclusion and not one of those open-endings supposed to make you think but ending up being very frustrating.

I don’t know why but for me this book was at the same time very realistic and absolutely absurd. Some aspects of the plot seemed a little sudden but when I think about it, that might also be due to the restrictive point of view. Indeed, Douglas only tells us the headlines about what happens to his wife and son because that’s only what he is able to gather. All in all, the plot is well constructed and grabs your attention. It is a quick and easy read but it will still make you think about family relationships, how long we should keep fighting, when it is finally time to let go, and that it is never too late to make a change. While I was reading, I thought a lot about my dad and what he must feel like sometimes, having had a similar education as Douglas. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little emotional about it.

Characters

This aspect of the novel is what I had the most trouble with. I found the main character very relatable but not so much the other characters. Once again, it might be because of the point of view Nicholls chose but it did bother me. Now that I think about it as a whole though, I think the dislike I have for Connie, Albie and Kat (you’ll see what I mean) is kind of the point of the story and it’s genius but I didn’t see it that way while I was reading. Douglas is a biochemist. He was raised by parents who didn’t demonstrate their love and therefore now struggles with his own relationship with his son. Connie is this artist figure (she’s a bit of a hipster to be honest) who is very in touch with her emotions. Similarly to One Day, Nicholls brings together opposites but the possibility of it working out is less evident this time (although it did for 25 years before Douglas starts telling his story.

Side-note: it was hard not to think about One Day while reading this novel but how I felt when I was 18 and reading One Day compared to who I am now reading Us is very different. Plus, (obviously) these are two very different books.

Form

This novel is very structured. It’s divided into 2 books, 9 parts, and 180 short chapters, with beautiful quotes at the start of each parts (and y’all know how much I love quotes). This division is what made it such a quick read because I didn’t feel overwhelmed by never-ending chapters.

One thing that did bother me was that the flashbacks were sometimes suddenly brought up whereas other times they were eased in via present circumstances. I preferred the second way. It was not confusing when we were suddenly thrown back in the past but it did take away from the fluidity of the story.

In terms of writing style, Nicholls did not disappoint; the prose was poetic at times, often funny, always pleasant.

Now that I’ve finished writing this article, I realise how much I actually liked this book and how effective Nicholl’s use of Douglas’ point of view is. There is actually a chapter near the end of the book called “point of views” where Douglas quickly addresses how the story would have gone if Connie or Albie had told it.

If I had to rate this novel, I’d give it 4 stars. I absolutely recommend it for anyone who’s looking for a new perspective on family and love life.

If you want to check out the other reviews I wrote:

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin 

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

Toodles,

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