Us follows Douglas and Connie Petersen and their son Albie during the most eventful summer of their lives so far. Albie is off to university come September to study photography and Connie has dropped the bombshell that she is thinking of leaving her husband. Connie used to be a painter and was working in an art gallery when she and Douglas met while he was a biochemist working in the field of Drosophila ( fruit fly/ the bane of my life during my degree but that's a story for another day) genetics. As Albie is following in the artist footsteps of his mother, Connie decides that a grand tour of Europe's art galleries should be their final family holiday so Douglas is determined to make this the best summer of their lives whilst simultaneously saving his marriage. Unfortunately, as one might expect, things don't always go the way you want them to in life and after a heated argument, Albie runs away and Connie returns to the UK but the story is far from over.
The story is told from Douglas' perspective and alternates between the present (their grand tour of Europe) and stories from his 25 year relationship with Connie. There are usually clusters of two to four chapters told from either era which is much better than it alternating after every chapter. The chapters are short with 180 in total but I think that just adds to Douglas' character of being a scientist, I've often been told how concise I can be (although my blog posts are usually anything but). There is a chapter towards the end of the book where Douglas considers what the book would have been like had it been told from Connie's or Albie's perspective albeit briefly. This made me realise that I related to Douglas quite a bit and if the story had been told by Connie or Albie, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed Us as much. Douglas and I share a hatred of glitter and a view on how the next 50 years is not looking so good for our species, oh the joys of being life scientists!
There are several aspects of the book that I loved. First, it has to be the travel aspect. Late last year, I reviewed A Single Breath and that really made me want to go travelling in Australia and Us has done the same but with Europe. Also, it's made me want to learn more about art as I spent a great deal of time on Google searching some of the paintings that are mentioned in Us. Aside from what I personally gained from the book, I love how genuine Douglas, Connie and Albie are and this is a reason why I have read almost all of Nicholls' novels. The ending wasn't the happy ever after you may expect after a major event towards the end of the book but it was realistic and in that way, is similar to the ending of One Day. Us touches upon issues that many 50 something couples go through - death, depression, affairs, tough career choices and parenting challenges but he writes about them in a way that is universally accessible. My favourite quote of the book is: "Grief is as much about regret for what you've never had as sadness for what you've lost" and I think from that quote you can see what I mean about the book being universal.
The only thing that is stopping me from giving Us the full 5 sheep is that the first half of the book is quite slow. There is a lot about the art in France and Amsterdam but most of the time, the family are just arguing or travelling and even the chapters about their history focus on the first weekend they met for a considerable amount of the book despite Douglas simultaneously protesting that he is not writing about their meeting through rose tinted spectacles. I think we really get to know Douglas once Albie runs away and Connie goes home which is why I enjoyed the second half of the book more.
The next book I am reading is One Night in Italy by Lucy Diamond which I have no doubt will make me want to travel too and also leave me quite hungry as Italian cuisine is my favourite. Keep an eye out for the review which will be posted in the coming week.
Until next time, take care.
Mancunian Sheep x