Books: Us by David Nicholls

I really loved One Day (the book, not the film), and this was a good book, too, but I didn't enjoy it as much. And maybe that's because of the whole raised expectations thing where, after one really good book, you anticipate the next one being as good or better. But I think, for me, this was more that One Day, despite its tear-inducing ending, was hopeful in tone and this one is rather hopeless.

Douglas Petersen is on the brink of losing his wife of nearly 25 years. His 17-year-old son Albie hates him. It's not a promising start, and watching Douglas struggle to hold on to everything—everyone—he has is somewhat painful. As Albie graduates from school, Douglas plans a Grand Tour and envisions how much fun they will have as a family, how this trip will bring them together. But of course it goes all wrong.

Meanwhile, the story of the disastrous holiday is interwoven with the tale of Douglas and Connie's past: how they met, moved in together, married. All the footprints that lead to the current day and age. The resulting tapestry makes Douglas's fantasy of setting things right all the sadder as it is made patently clear that he and Connie are something of a mismatch. From the start, the relationship bears the ticking of a countdown clock.

There are, of course, some truly outrageous moments, but nothing I found particularly funny. Just gradations of sad and depressing, really. Shades of ridiculous and pitiable.

But Nicholls draws characters marvelously well. They are well-rounded, fully formed people. One easily sees oneself, or people one knows, in the outlines of Douglas, Connie, Albie, Kat, Freja. This is Nicholls' true talent.

Well, and he's a fine storyteller. This is a good book. Just not a very upbeat one.

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