Thursday, 22 October 2015

US by David Nicholls

US by David Nicholls
Pages: 399
Date: October 22, 2015
Grade: 4
Details: Book Club Read

The blurb:

'I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.' 

'Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?' 

Douglas Petersen understands his wife's need to 'rediscover herself' now that their son is leaving home.

He just thought they'd be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

What could possibly go wrong?

My thoughts:

Years ago I read One Day by David Nicholls and I enjoyed the book, although it was, of course, the love story that wasn’t. And, this book continues that theme. Rather than a love story leading up to a twenty-five year relationship it is the unravelling of what, at first glance, appears to be a happy relationship after twenty-five years. Although, that’s not quite right either. Both the story of Douglas and Connie meeting and coming together and the story of the demise of their relationship are told, in alternating chapters, at the same time.

For me this set-up worked wonderfully well some of the time, and not at all at others. I think that the author meant for us to walk away from this story with a sense that sometimes ‘only’ love isn’t enough to sustain a relationship; that sometimes, no matter how well a couple live their lives together, it doesn’t suffice. And that would have been fine if I could have believed in Connie and Douglas as a couple. But, to be perfectly honest, almost from the start I found myself wondering how these two characters ended up together, never mind managed to stay together for twenty-five years. I’m all for opposites attract but Douglas and Connie appeared to have nothing in common and, for me at least, the wide distance between them was clear from the moment they met. Combine that with the fact that I never got the feeling either of them moved towards a middle ground where they might have been comfortable together, and I ended up feeling that Douglas should be grateful the relationship had lasted as long as it did rather than surprised is was ending.

Part of the problem for me was that the story is told in the first person, from Douglas’s perspective. And, to be fair, Douglas doesn’t try to paint himself as better than he is, quite the opposite in fact. As a result I found myself liking him less and less which meant I didn’t want his last ditch effort to save his marriage to succeed.

The book could have been shorter. I got a bit tired of the back story. I guess it was there to show how the relationship deteriorated while Douglas remained blind to the downwards spiral, but since I found the combination of him and Connie hard to believe from the moment they met, that part of the story didn’t feel really relevant to me. With about 100 pages still to go I just wanted the author to get on with it already and bring us to the, in my eyes, inevitable conclusion.

However, before you start wondering how on earth this book ended up with the grade it did, let me add that there was a lot I enjoyed about this book. The story takes the reader through a full range of emotions. I laughed out loud only pages before I’d feel sad. I would recognised a scene as if it had been taken from my own life before wanting to throw the book at the wall because the characters did something which to me was completely unimaginable. And throughout the book were little gems of insights, such as this one about the way a loved one looks:

“I’ve been expecting to watch you grow older ever since we met. Why should it trouble me? It’s the face itself that I love, not that face at twenty-eight or thirty-four or forty-three. It’s that face.”

And this one about grief:

“Grief is as much about regret for what you’ve never had as sadness for what you’ve lost.”

Overall this was an easy and comfortable read. For a book that depicts the demise of a relationship it was remarkably upbeat most of the time. And, what’s more, I look forward to discussing this book with my reading group. Because the book does pose a few interesting questions such as:

o   When is love not enough (any more)?
o   Can a relationship between two people who are polar opposites ever work?
o   If you were forced to blame either Connie or Douglas for the demise of their relationship, who would you pick and why.

No comments:

Post a Comment