Not since The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, which was my favourite read of 2012, have I been so moved by a novel about marriage and relationships. The book I’m referring to is Us by David Nicholls.
Douglas is a scientist who believes that you succeed in life through hard work, whereas Connie is artistic, impulsive and bohemian. Married for nearly three decades, they live in the suburbs with their rebellious seventeen-year-old son, Albie. And they’re about to set off on a month-long ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe to experience the greatest works of art in the world as a family. It’s at this precise moment that Connie informs Douglas that she may want a divorce.
‘What are you talking about?’ said Connie, sitting up now.
‘It’s fine. No sign of burglars.’
‘I didn’t say anything about burglars. I said I think our marriage has run its course. Douglas, I think I want to leave you.’
I sat for a moment on the edge of our bed.
‘Well at least it’s not burglars,’ I said, though neither of us smiled and we did not get back to sleep that night.
Justifiably, Douglas wants to cancel the ‘Grand Tour’ but Connie can’t bring herself to disappoint Albie, who’s off to university in a few months time. Thus, Douglas goes along as planned privately convinced that this is his opportunity to save his marriage and finally bond with his son. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for Douglas to realize that’s easier said than done.
I had hoped the three of us would spend our last day in Paris together, but Connie felt tired and insisted, rather snappily, that she’d like just one minute to herself if that was all right, just one single minute if that wasn’t against the law. With just each other for company, my son and I had a tendency to panic, but we steeled ourselves and set out for the Musée d’Orsay.
The reason I was so enthralled by Us is because in its pages Nicholls has fashioned characters so realistically flawed that they infuriated me. There were times when I just didn’t get where Connie’s head or heart was. The same held true for Douglas with respect to his lack of foresight and understanding.
I had regrets, certainly, about things I’d said, things I’d done, but behind it all there had always been … wasn’t it obvious that there had always been …
I sat heavily on a stone bench. An old man on a bench.
Narrated by Douglas, Us is an incredibly honest story of a man desperately trying to prevent the unthinkable — a life without his wife — and rescue his marriage. Us delves into the demands of not only marriage but also parenthood. And dares to bear the truth that sometimes love doesn’t last forever.
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