This book had been on my ‘to read’ list ever since it was released and it had been sitting on my bookshelf untouched for the entirety of that time, but University and general life commitments had prevented me from reading something I wanted to, so when I decided that I would no longer allow excuses to stop me from doing what I love most this was my first choice. I am so glad that, nearly 18 months after it was published, I finally got around to picking it up, and finished it within just a couple of days, because it reminded me why I loved reading so much, and since reading it I have read three more books in a week.
I had been a fan of Nicholl’s One Day, re-reading it multiple times before the film was released, so I was almost certain that I would enjoy Us, too, and I wasn’t wrong! As would be expected of a David Nicholl’s narrative, we see another relationship put to the test. Although, this time, there is a father/son relationship struggle, as well as a romantic struggle, which adds another level to the story.
I think it is the simple fact that Douglas seems almost doomed from the outset, and that he rarely opens up to others about his feelings, that causes the reader to feel so much sympathy for him. I, too, was stuck in the struggle of admiring his wife, Connie, for her coolness, and wishing that she would appreciate her husband for himself and his ‘Douglas-isms’. The reader is well aware that Connie is out of his league, yet root for him in opposition to the self-obsessed trapeze artist; likewise, we can recognise that he is overly critical of his son Albie, yet know that it is done out of love. As a result of this, Connie’s suggestion that their marriage could have seen its time is heart wrenching for the reader, and we share his desperation to save his marriage and attempt to undo any wrongs that he may have committed on the around-Europe trip that the couple had already planned before their son leaves home.
I held by breath as Douglas entered the prostitute’s apartment in Amsterdam post-motorbike incident, knowing that he wouldn’t really do anything wrong, but worrying that he may get lost in the moment, given his infamous seeming inability to say or do the right thing at the right time. His return to Connie and Albie is at first a relief, but it is at this moment that the real struggle begins, and you want to give Douglas a pep-talk for how he dealt with the situation, as Albie decides to desert the family holiday.
Given the fact that the majority of the novel follows the journey of Douglas and Connie’s trip, places and spaces are a key motif in the narrative. Different countries and the physical spaces within bring their new challenges and emotions for Douglas and his family, and the fact that his marriage is not restored in the romantic setting of Paris, reveals a lot about the couple’s relationship. However, throughout everything, Douglas’ willingness to travel across countries to find his son, spending a nights in another woman’s hotel room and a prison cell, all the while remaining completely loyal to his wife, in the process is a clear indicator of his integrity and dedication to salvaging his family.
The end is half-expected, although we probably wouldn’t admit that to ourselves whilst reading the rest of the book, and leaves us feeling simultaneously content and upset for Douglas. However, in spite of this somewhat predictable conclusion, we are left satisfied, and I think this occurs as a result of Douglas’ complete honesty with us that comes out of his occupation as a biochemist, meaning he has little appreciation for a decoration of the truth.
Whilst reading the book, I was constantly reaching for a pencil to underline phrases that could apply to so many of life’s situations, and this is because, in true Nicholls style, the book is written is such beautiful simplicity that every word strikes the reader. Us really made me consider how life can be taken for granted, and urges the importance of showing your gratitude for what you have.
I would encourage anyone to make the time to read Us, not because they need to take any lessons from it, but because it seems a waste that Nicholls’ ability to arrange words and create characters with such skill might not be enjoyed by everyone who has the ability to enjoy them. The plot may not be complex, but it is the wholesome simplicity and relatability of Us that makes this a truly wonderful novel.