[I received a copy of Us by David Nicholls from its Canadian publisher HarperCollins Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the book.]
I’ve been meaning to write this review for a long time – ever since I finished reading it in November, really – but I never quite got around to doing it. However, I am armed and ready to share my thoughts on this wonderful book today and I can’t wait! I think the fact that I still have so much enthusiasm for it even after a few weeks really says a lot about how well-written and plotted this book is.
In many ways, Douglas Petersen’s life after marriage is not what he had expected. He had dreamed of a perfect, loving, wholesome family where in reality, his relationship with his son Albie is almost non-existent and, we learn in the book’s opening scene, his wife Connie thinks she wants to divorce him. However, before Connie makes her final decision and Albie goes off to university, the Petersen family gives themselves one last chance and embark on a month-long Grand Tour spanning multiple European countries. Will this crucial vacation bring Douglas and his family together, or will it wedge them further apart?
There were many reasons why I enjoyed reading Us so much. For one, I appreciate that it depicts life after marriage, after the promised “happily ever after,” rather than focus on the cute “how they met” story (though there is that as well and fruit flies are involved – double score). It also drew me in quite quickly because it’s not only a book about a husband and wife, but also about a father and son. I couldn’t help but empathize with everyone in the family as Douglas, a biochemist, struggled to related to his artistic son, subjecting Albie to awkward and sometimes humiliating situations while embarrassing himself. Nicholls does a great job developing his characters and putting them in believable scenarios, making the story come alive in a realistic and lively way.
It was incredibly easy for me to relate to Douglas and feel connected to his story because the book is written in first person. Douglas can be a frustrating man to be with at times, but because he was the character narrating the story, I was able to hear directly from him and understand that his intentions were always well-meaning, even if it didn’t quite come across that way all the time. Being able to compare his expectations to the realities he faces in the novel made me completely empathetic towards him and I quickly found myself invested in this compelling and engaging story.
The cherry on top for me was the Grand Tour itself. I’ve never been to Europe and it was a pleasure to travel with the Petersen family while laughing and cringing at their (well, Douglas’) blunders. Through the pages I traveled all around Europe on my own Grand Tour, and it was a delight to escape from my reality into the warm European sunshine.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic story, a realistic “life after marriage” plot, or just want to escape from your side of the world and travel through Europe with the Petersens, Us has something for everyone and I cannot recommend it enough.
Verdict: An often humorous story about a family that’s barely holding it together, Us is a heartwarming and realistic novel that will make you laugh, cringe, and cheer for its characters. With its extremely short chapters and compelling writing, it is a book that you won’t want to put down once you’ve picked it up.
Read if: You loved Nicholls’ popular novel One Day, want more than just a cute romantic novel, want to travel through Europe just by turning pages.
Have you read anything by Nicholls? Did you like it? Are you a hopeless romantic or are you more pragmatic when it comes to relationships?