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Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen-year-old son, Albie; then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway. Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage and might even help him bond with Albie.

Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view, Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published September 30, 2014

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About the author

David Nicholls

33 books3,772 followers
David Nicholls is a British author, screenwriter, and actor. A student of Toynbee Comprehensive school and Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, he Graduated from the University of Bristol having studied English Literature and Drama.

After graduation, he won a scholarship to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, before returning to London in 1991 and finally earning an Equity card. He worked sporadically as an actor for the next eight years, eventually earning a three year stint at the Royal National Theatre, followed by a job at BBC Radio Drama as a script reader/researcher. This led to script-editing jobs at London Weekend Television and Tiger Aspect Productions.

During this period, he began to write, developing an adaptation of Sam Shepard’s stage-play Simpatico with the director Matthew Warchus, an old friend from University. He also wrote his first original script, a situation comedy about frustrated waiters, Waiting, which was later optioned by the BBC.

Simpatico was turned into a feature film in 1999, and this allowed David to start writing full-time. He has been twice nominated for BAFTA awards and his first novel, Starter for Ten was featured on the first Richard and Judy Book Club.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 10, 2015
”’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?’”

This was the conversation moments after Douglas Petersen’s wife rolls over in bed and informs him that she believes their marriage is finished. Their son Albie is a few weeks away from leaving for college and she “wants to feel this is the beginning of something new, not the beginning of the end.” For some people a conversation like this would not come as a surprise, there had been flashing red lights for years. For Douglas, who has enjoyed almost three decades of involvement with this woman, it comes out of the dark like a mugger’s leather clad fist impacting the side of his jaw.

Douglas is a man as stable and predictable as the sun and the moon. He is a biochemist studying among other things the genital architecture of the fruit fly. Maybe not exciting stuff to others, but being able to study evolutionary mutations in a few generations instead of waiting a millennium can be fascinating work.

His wife Connie has an artist’s soul. She is creative and used to sketch pictures of people before motherhood became all consuming. Albie shares her same passion for art, music, and photography. Douglas doesn’t always understand their passions, but he does appreciate the intensity they have for their interests. It is the same way he feels about science. He loved Connie’s sketches and when they buy their first house he offers to build her an artist’s studio. David Nicholls moves us between the past and the present as Douglas relives their life together. One of the painful things to watch as this plot unfolds, is Douglas trying to support his wife’s and son’s interests only to somehow always say or do the wrong thing.

Part of this is he is not “right minded”. They know this, so any attempt he makes to appreciate art the same way they do somehow diminishes their own enjoyment. If he likes a piece of art then it must not be any good.

Connie springs this urge to” discover herself” on him just before they are to begin a family grand tour of Europe. Maybe not the best timing. He chooses to believe that she is only thinking about leaving him, that the jury is still out. The European vacation is one more chance for him to prove himself, to win the hand he most wants to hold for the rest of his life, one more time.

Albie is the typical moody teenager who has become an expert at dividing and conquering his parents. Connie, always the protective hen about his artistic interests, is also the reliable counter weight to Douglas’s attempts to pin Albie down on exactly what his plans are to become successful. There are two competing schools of thought on what success really means. To Connie it is pursuing your interests to the detriment of financial security. To Douglas it is to pursue a way to make a living and with spare time chase those artistic dreams. Neither system generally leads to happiness. The best chance anyone has of achieving any level of contentment is to find that tricky balance between financial stability and still manage to find ways to express themselves through a creative endeavor. For instance, a circulation manager in the Midwest might decide to write book reviews so he doesn’t go fruit loops for cocoa puffs. I know it isn’t as sexy as writing poetry, but it is a form of expression.

So after hoisting this Sword of Damocles over Douglas’s head Connie assures him that they must keep up appearances on this trip for Albie’s sake.


Marriage has always been difficult, and with each new study the divorce rate is climbing all over the world. The divorce rate in the United States is estimated to be at 53%. Fortunately for Douglas he has better odds in Great Britain at 42%. Money is still the #1 reason for divorce, but I think the truth of the matter is that wrapped around any of the top reasons for divorce is the spectre of boredom. There is the seven year itch. Then the next big detriment to marriage is when the kids are finally scooted off to college, exactly the circumstances that Douglas is facing.

People can not expect their spouse to make them happy. We are each responsible for our own happiness. Anyone is certainly gambling with bad odds thinking a new spouse will be the key to happiness. The divorce rate goes up exponentially with each new attempt. Third marriages have a 73% divorce rate. This all said, sometimes the spouse is the source of the unhappiness and the only resolution is divorce, but if we examine boredom as a main ingredient for divorce many might be mistaking comfort and dependability for tediousness.

Douglas fits the trustworthy, no frills profile which might be considered dull especially if you have an artistic temperament. I have a feeling that Connie is not self-stimulating when it comes to producing art and that she needs someone or something to awaken those urges in her. Douglas can be as supportive as he wants to be, but he will never be a muse.

Connie is perfectly happy with their marriage and sees it as a success. Douglas also sees their marriage as a success and doesn’t understand why it can’t continue.

Last chance Douglas...the Petersen grand tour of Europe.

Douglas tries to move into their artistic circle, but is met with skepticism and derision. He googles like a madman trying to find interesting facts to share. ”Perhaps this is why those museum audio-guides had become so popular; a reassuring voice in your ear, telling you what to think and feel. Look to your left, take note, please observe; how terrific it would be to carry that voice with you always, out of the museum and throughout all of life.”

When a family dispute has Albie running away from the grand tour Connie goes home, but Douglas decides that this may be the last chance he has to ever make things right with his son.

David Nicholls follows up the phenomenally successful One Day with this amusing, but at times painfully real look at relationships between sons and fathers, between sons and mothers, and between wives and husbands. For those of you that have survived the teenage wars with your children, (I have recently graduated to survivor status.) depending on the part that you’ve had to play, you very well may find yourself wanting to strangle/hug one or two of the characters in this book. You will experience a whirlwind tour through the Netherlands, France, Italy, with the grand finale occurring in Spain. To say the least, Douglas comes home a changed man, and though he isn’t happy about the state of his marriage he is less fearful of the life that may exist after it.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

Profile Image for Anmiryam.
787 reviews136 followers
December 9, 2014
I approached this novel with some trepidation. True, it was selected for the Man Booker Prize Longlist, a prestigious honor to be sure, but in forums of readers who avidly follow the prize and try to consume the selected books, it was dismissed and denigrated. The snobbery arose from the aura left in the wake of Nicholls's previous bestseller, "One Day", which gave the book a miasma of being less than literary, a sop to populism on the prize list. I have to say, the jacket copy and blurbs from other bestselling writers reinforced that impression.

Interesting -- what about this mainstream book destined for the bestseller list, and likely a movie adaptation, brought it to the attention of the Booker committee? It isn't the plot -- an awkward & conventional, but loving middle-aged white Englishman embarks on a trip around Europe to save his marriage and his relationship with his 17 year-old son. It isn't for literary daring -- Nicholls employs a single, reliable, first person narrative told in the past tense, to tell a story of mundane middle-class midlife transformation. No invented languages, no historical slight of hand or imagined dystopian future, or grand considerations of human nature. So what was it?

Flawless execution.

From the opening pages, Douglas's voice is engaging, warm and often funny. He is three-dimensional and alive, idiosyncratic and intelligent, able to provide insight into his motivations, but not always able to see a situation as others do. In short, he's as real a person you are likely to meet in the pages of a novel.

Nicholls manages, despite the limitations of a single point of view, to give us glimpses into Connie and Albie's perspectives on Douglas -- no one is a villain here and the tragedy of this family arises from misunderstood actions and ineffective communication. As the story progresses, Douglas inches towards greater honesty and self-knowledge as he struggles to salvage his family. The lightly comic tone progressively shades darker as the secrets and tragedies of the Petersen marriage and Douglas's failures as a parent are laid bare. You cringe at many of Douglas's actions and you get the sense that the Douglas, describing the seriocomic pilgrimage sometime after the events, cringes as well.

In some superficial ways "Us" resembles Emma Straub's "The Vacationers" -- a marriage on the brink, a child about to leave for college, a trip undertaken despite the stresses facing the family. In other respects it evokes Rachel Joyce's "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" which also made the Booker list back in 2012. Fear not, "Us" stands on its own despite these resonances and in my opinion is a more satisfying read than either.

There are lots of other nice things I could say about "Us" -- it's a fabulous portrait of a marriage of opposites, a painful rendition of a father who wants to do well by his son, but can't seem to get it right, an effective use of different cities to set the mood -- but, the best I can really offer is to say, read this book when it comes out. I bet even if you don't think it deserves to be nominated for the Booker you will be surprised, impressed, engaged and entertained. As a bonus, if you care about such things, you'll discover near the end that Nicholls includes some nicely done nods to the construction of his fiction -- the stories that could have been instead of this one. It works, as so much else does in this charming and affecting novel.

Booker Prize? I doubt it. Bestseller with many fans? Absolutely.

Profile Image for Lynne King.
494 reviews675 followers
May 15, 2015
A major error was pointed out by several GReaders for which I thank them and as a consequence I rewrote the review. I felt that my previous review did not do justice to the book.

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?

Now that is indeed a strong statement and how would you, as a spouse/partner, relate to that when your fifty-four year old husband, healthy, an academic and certainly not infirm makes that statement.

I confess that I have never heard of this author at all. I was in Stansted Airport, London about ten days ago and I hate this airport with a passion. Why? It’s the security as it takes forever. So arriving three hours in advance after staying at the Radisson at the airport when they ripped me off with a Caesar salad and a glass of white wine, the waiter actually wanted a gratuity, I was not in the mood for any nonsense. People, people everywhere. Living in rural France for nearly fourteen years, the idea of all these individuals being so close to me, so many different languages drove me to despair. Keep away from me! I like my space and my privacy.

So W. H. Smith to the rescue. Well to me it was like entering into a sweet shop. Normally I don’t find anything in there that I like but there was certainly choice on that particular day. I’m a book addict and there is no getting away from it. I only wanted one book and ended up with six. But “US” by David Nicholls caught my attention for several reasons. Firstly, it was the title, then the colour red on the cover, the fact that book was longlisted (why not shortlisted?) for the Man Booker Prize 2014, and I have a very good friend who is called Douglas but finally it was the blurb that clinched it for me!

The novel is skillfully crafted and structured showing the current situation in relation to Connie’s and Douglas’ marriage and alternating with the twenty-first century version of the Grand Tour.

With backdrops of England, France, Italy and Spain, the reader is taken through a kaleidoscopic narrative which is stunning. The descriptions of Paris and Florence with their art were also exceptional.

Whenever I read a book and finally put it down, I always return to the part that leaves a lasting impression on me and this is when Douglas is in Barcelona and meets a smack of jellyfish (I had no idea what you call a group of jellyfish and this appears to be the appropriate definition – I guess they do “smack” in a way) whilst swimming in the sea. There are quite disastrous consequences here but gripping reading…

The novel is witty, humorous, soul-searching with tear-jerking sections, in fact a tragicomedy. Certain passages were indeed quite sad but I ended up laughing for some obscure reason.

Just imagine, you are a middle aged man who has always loved his wife from the day he met her but regrettably for him, he did become a trifle complacent as seen in the book but he was totally unaware of this at the time.

Their son Albie (also known as the “Egg”). Now, you tell me. Why would you call your son Egg? That’s completely beyond me but then Egg plays a vital part in the breakdown of a marriage. Connie, to all intents a purposes does love her husband Douglas. I know that opposites supposedly attract but Connie being an arty type, who can indulge in light drugs is such an opposite to Douglas, a biochemist but then love works in wondrous ways as we all know and they marry, much to Douglas’ amazement.

The problem is the wretched son, Albie, who is planning to go to university to study photography and what follows is a wife who finally states that with the departure of their son to university, she will also leave Douglas after the three of them return from their planned Grand Tour. No date is given but the strain of all of this makes Douglas determined to maintain his relationship with his wife. But will he succeed?

This is the most amazing odyssey of a man who wants to retain the love of his son and wife. It is truly wonderful, multi-faceted and I loved it. As for the ending? I was in a way disappointed but then… Well it’s for you the reader to find out.

The novel is witty, humorous, soul-searching with tear-jerking sections, in fact a tragicomedy. Certain passages were quite sad but I ended up laughing for some obscure reason.

An absolutely wonderful book! Please read it! You will be, I’m convinced, as entranced as I was.

Profile Image for Labijose.
985 reviews460 followers
March 4, 2022
Sin que sirva de precedente, antes de leer esta novela me he visto la serie en Movistar. Interpretada y producida por Tom Hollander, me ha parecido una serie digna, aunque me imagino que pasará desapercibida para el gran público.

De David Nicholls me he leído ya varias obras, y siempre me ha dejado con un buen sabor de boca. En “Us” (Nosotros) destacaría lo identificado que me he sentido con el protagonista, ese Douglas esquemático y controlador, que está dispuesto a cambiar (si ello es posible) con tal de no perder ni a su mujer ni a su hijo.

Con tal fin emprenden los tres un viaje veraniego por el continente (ellos viven en Londres), pues Albie está a punto de dejar el nido para ir a la universidad, y Connie, su mujer, le acaba de comunicar su intención de abandonarlo, aunque en buenos términos y manteniendo la amistad. Douglas cree que durante el viaje le hará cambiar de opinión, pues no concibe la vida sin ella. En cuanto a Albie, aunque lo quiere con locura, el salto generacional no ha conseguido que se puedan llevar ni mínimamente bien, y Douglas también está dispuesto a remediarlo.

A través del viaje y sus ciudades (Paris, Amsterdam, Múnich, Venecia, Siena, Madrid y Barcelona) viviremos la angustia de un padre que ve como sus planes se van al garete, casi desde el primer momento. Hace todo lo que puede, pero a su edad ya es muy difícil cambiar hábitos y creencias que están fuertemente arraigadas en él. Y eso le provoca seguir metiendo la pata. Irremediablemente, y a pesar de su propósito de enmienda, Douglas se verá irremisiblemente abocado al fracaso….. Aunque quizás ¿un último intento?

Paralelamente a la narración principal, tendremos otra de unos Douglas y Connie jóvenes, inexpertos, con toda la vida por delante. Él es un bioquímico ratón de laboratorio, que no sabe socializar, y ella es una bohemia y soñadora que ve en Douglas a un tipo de persona que la puede sacar del círculo vicioso en el que está metida. Tienen todo el futuro por descubrir. Pero ese mismo futuro los pondrá a prueba una y otra vez.

Maravillosa novela de corte dramático, pero con grandes dosis de humor y mucha reflexión personal. Especialmente en el tema de las relaciones de pareja y en el de las relaciones padres e hijos. Como ya he mencionado, me he sentido muy identificado con Douglas, sin llegar a los extremos a los que él recurre. Pero también comprendo perfectamente tanto a Connie como a Albie. Connie es la libertad y el vivir día a día, sin programar más allá de lo necesario y sin dar tantas vueltas a las cosas. Y Albie es …… bueno, Albie es un joven de 17 años, con todo lo que ello implica. Bueno y malo.

Total, que he disfrutado enormemente tanto de la serie (que, por cierto, ya ha desaparecido de Movistar) como de la novela, y si no hubiera sido por la primera me hubiese pasado desapercibida la segunda. Y siempre recomiendo que, si se puede, se disfruten en versión original. “Nosotros” rinde homenaje a la madurez, pero también a la juventud desenfadada. A los sueños que se deshacen por el camino. Es, en definitiva, un canto a la vida con un final muy David Nicholls, lo cual le agradezco enormemente. Me ha hecho pasarlo bien (incluso reírme), pero también me ha hecho reflexionar.
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews931 followers
January 11, 2015
I just finished reading this for a second time. I only do that with 5-star books and I am revising my rating accordingly. This book is wonderful!

It's the story of a marriage in peril, narrated by the husband, Douglas. He is a British biochemist - a man who is ruled by logic and scientific reason. Douglas is improbably married to Connie, an artist, who is laissez faire to the extreme. Indeed, these two could not be more polar opposites. They have a seventeen-year old son, Albie, who is of his mother's temperament with a healthy disdain of all things conventional, including his father. When Connie announces to Douglas one night that she feels their marriage has run its course and she may want to leave, Douglas insists that the family stick to a previously planned Grand Tour of Europe where he secretly hopes to win his wife and son back.

The story of the trip is interwoven brilliantly with the backstories of Douglas and Connie. Nicholls has done this masterfully - sometimes this technique can backfire and pull you out of the flow of the story, but not here. He is carefully stitching the tapestry of a marriage, of three lives.

Douglas's narration is humorous, self-deprecating and occasionally heartbreaking. This book may seem like it would be a downer, but it is not. It's life - and ultimately, it's hopeful.

Very well done - full of insight, wisdom and wry observations. Highly recommend.

Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
November 7, 2014
In hell, we’ll hear echoes of all the well-meaning criticism we gave our kids: every perfectly reasonable judgment on that T-shirt, that friend, that music, that mess, that earring, that homework!

But our intentions were good, right?

In David Nicholls’s new novel, “Us” — longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize — a father discovers just how much those intentions are worth to his hectored teenage son. This is the sort of witty book that guys should read the moment their partners say, “I’m pregnant!”

Or maybe earlier.

After 20 years of marriage, Douglas Petersen wakes up one night to hear his wife tell him, “Our marriage has run its course. . . . I want to leave you.”

To Douglas’s surprise, his once attractive practicality has grown pinched and cold over the course of a long marriage. But in this irresistible novel, we see him from the conflicted inside: “I loved my wife to a degree that I found impossible to express, and so rarely did,” he tells us. “I am 54 years old . . . and have one son, Albie, nicknamed ‘Egg,’ to whom I am devoted but who sometimes regards me with a pure and concentrated disdain, filling me with so much sadness and regret that I can barely speak.”

More often, though, the trouble is that Douglas does speak. There’s nothing about Albie that doesn’t frustrate him. Tell me you haven’t muttered this under your breath: “He refuses to wear a coat, an absurd affectation, as if coats were somehow ‘square’ or un-cool, as if there were something ‘hip’ about hypothermia. What is he rebelling against? Warmth? Comfort?” And then there’s the boy’s room, “an immense Petri dish of furry toast crusts and lager tins and unthinkable socks that will one day have to be sealed off in concrete like Chernobyl.” Douglas presents that most common tragedy of parenting: He would do anything for his child — except tolerate a little teenage attitude. “I disapproved because I cared,” he claims. “Why wasn’t that apparent?”

Douglas tells us at the start, “This is a love story,” but it’s often a comedy and sometimes a tragedy. Trained as a scientist, Douglas knows everything about biology but little about life. Over the years, he’s failed to understand just how alienated from him his wife and son have become. Determined to improve, he does what any well-organized scientist would do: He draws up a list. No. 3 states, “It is not necessary to be seen to be right about everything, even when that is the case.” Ominously, No. 8 advises, “Maintain a sense of fun and spontaneity.”

In fact, Nicholls’s entire novel comes to us as a long list of short, numbered sections — from one to 180. That super-organized structure, though, is no match for the messiness of family life. As any parent knows, there’s no list a teenager can’t scramble.

Like Emma Straub’s “The Vacationers,” which came out earlier this year, “Us” is the story of a fractured family going on a trip: “the last summer holiday we’ll have together.” Despite her divorce plans, Douglas’s wife imagines a Grand Tour to prepare their college-bound son for “the adult world, like in the 18th century.” The young man, of course, would rather take the money and go off drinking with his buddies. To Douglas, who knows his marriage is over, this expensive expedition sounds like “a funeral cortege, backpacking through Italy.”

Nicholls is a delightfully funny writer with a huge audience in England — his most recent novel, “One Day,” sold more than two million copies and was made into a film — and this over-planned vacation makes ripe material for comedy. If he were only a prig, Douglas would be an unbearable narrator, but he has a lovable, self-deprecating sense of humor, and he’s as frustrated as anyone else with his inability to relax, to accept, to let it go. “I reeked of disapproval,” he confesses. And to all the usual pressures that travel is heir to, Douglas adds his determination to turn the Grand Tour into the Grand Cure: a summer so packed with good cheer that his wife will fall back in love with him and his son will realize just what a swell dad he has.

If you’ve ever left the house, you know that itinerary goes off the rails almost immediately. “I did my best,” Douglas says, “but my manner was queasy and self-conscious, like a children’s entertainer who knows his act is failing.” At their first stop in Paris, they check into a room “that was clearly the result of a wager to determine the smallest space into which a double mattress can fit. Brassy and vulgar, the bed frame must have been assembled inside like a ship in a bottle. On closer examination, it also seemed our room was a repository for all of Europe’s spare pubic hair.” The next room, which seemed perfectly lovely online, looks like a top-of-the-line bordello in a sex dungeon.

Almost immediately, Douglas’s efforts to win over his 17-year-old son are thwarted by the arrival of a sexy accordionist from New Zealand who majored in ventriloquism. Albie is smitten by this obnoxious young woman — who wouldn’t be? On the worst nights, Douglas and his wife lie in bed trying to block out the sounds of “Purple Rain” while their son and his new girlfriend carry on next door.

Yes, some of this has the madcap predictability of a rom-com available on DVD three weeks after its theatrical release. Douglas never tasted a hot chili sauce he won’t accidentally rub into his eye. Showing off his strong swimming at the beach, he’s surrounded by jellyfish (he imagines his corpse washing up on shore in an alarmingly tight bathing suit). But I found myself laughing — sometimes out loud on the Metro — through many of these antics. After a long season of novels focused on rape, torture and child abuse, “Us” felt like a welcome break.

The real artistry of this book stems from its clever structure. Even as Douglas’s doomed little family trudges around Europe, the narrative constantly shifts back 25 years to the beginning of his relationship with the attractive young artist who became his wife. She and her bohemian friends are so cool, and he’s so square. “I danced,” he confesses, “like someone wrestling with a bout of diarrhoea, clenched and anxious.” He’s overwhelmed by their differences but determined to impress her, to change, to do whatever he must to attract her. Before her first visit, he frantically redecorates — new postcards, new throw rugs, new underwear: “If she ever set foot in my flat, she would mistake me for someone else entirely; a bachelor of quiet good taste and simple needs, self-contained and self-assured, a man of the world who owned van Gogh prints and cushions and smelt of trees.”

The story of how that excited young man became the panicked middle-aged husband desperate to save his family is the real voyage of this novel. For all its bad meals, lumpy mattresses and cramped train seats, “Us” evolves into a poignant consideration of how a marriage ages, how parents mess up and what survives despite all those challenges.

This review was first published in The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Gabriela Silva.
21 reviews
February 22, 2016
Was it the happiest day of our lives? Probably not, if only because the truly happy days tend not to involve so much organisation, are rarely so public or so expensive. The happy ones sneak up, unexpected."
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,321 reviews2,142 followers
January 1, 2015
This is the first book I have read by this author and it will certainly not be my last. I loved it so much I ignored a million other things I should have been doing and read it from beginning to end in one day. The story is of a family breaking up and it should have been sad. In fact tears came to my eyes a few times. But overall the book is packed with humour mostly due to the lead character's inability to empathise fully with the rest of the human race. He frequently put me in mind of Don in The Rosie Project. The story is not sentimental and the ending is quite practical. I found myself feeling sorry for the three people involved as though their story was real. Definitely a five star read.
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,613 followers
January 1, 2016
Falling in love is a beautiful thing, more so when the love comes surreptitiously at your door which had opened many a times in past to find only empty autumns of loneliness and futile rains of solitude. Into such a heart, when love steps in, the heart does not remain the same, ever. Finding your reflection in another being becomes a hypnotic revelation, empowering you at once, to ironically, surrender your many identities to live in the nurturing shadow of your beloved. You accept sans hesitation, you relinquish without regret, you pursue without fatigue and you transform without ado. And when this spring continues to brighten your heart for seasons together, you lose track of the weather outside. You care no longer to check the forecast of the world beyond yourself, which still bears the unpredictability of floating emotional clouds. Being in love feels almost like a trance that you hope would never run out of steam.

But what if it does?

A reticent 30-year old research scientist, Douglas Petersen, meets a vivacious 28-year old artist, Connie Moore. Buoyed and drained by different drugs in life, they find a common drug that leaves them high for the next 24 years: love.

'...if only because the truly happy days tend not to involve so much organization, are rarely so public. The happy ones sneak up, unexpected."

During this long springy hangover in London, they gain and lose much. Besides togetherness and loyalty, they gain a handsome, albeit recalcitrant son, Albie. He abates the loss of their beautiful daughter, Jane, to some extent. But when it is time for the 17-year old Albie to attend university, the family decides to undertake a Grand Europe Tour as a farewell gift to Albie. Corrosively for Douglas, it also doubles up as his final bid to win Connie back who, days before the commencement of the tour, shares her long-tended contemplation of pursuing a separate, individual life after Albie’s departure.

'There's a saying, cited in popular song, that if you love someone you must set them free. Well, that's just nonsense. If you love someone, you bind them to you with heavy metal chains.'

And so begins a journey of epic proportions whose geographical vastness could only be countered by the stretch of emotional emptiness that Douglas had suddenly begun feeling like a lump in the rib. In the artistic corridors of Paris, on the cycling escapades of Munich, amidst the boisterous camaraderie of Amsterdam, over the splendorous rides of Venice and in the infectious effervescence of Madrid, he attempts to envelop his son in the friendship blanket by one hand while not losing grip on the love shield hoisted over his wife by the other. But are the attempts too little, too late?

'The heat and humidity were Amazonian and rubbing the skin on my perspiring forehead produced a grey scurf like the debris from a pencil eraser, the accumulated grime of seven nations.'

Is it possible to truly bask in an air of nostalgia if it does not leave the reassuring perfume of a loving present behind? How praiseworthy is a love that whisks away all our dreams because they find fulfillment in its refuge? Is wagering dreams for peace an act of cowardice? Should we pat our back if we receive eternal friendship in lieu of transient love? Who scores in the battle of unexpressed care and expressed scorn? Does communication, simply by its virtue of flowing, negate all its ill-effects? Nicholls swirls bubbles of profound thoughts towards us, which laced with witty humor, act as a mirror of life that laughs at us during our most sombre times; almost snatching control from our lives, like a perennial elder, whose children have suddenly developed the ephemeral hallucination of being their own bosses.

But again, like an elder, it senses our flights and falls and without fail, opens another window of our heart. What comes in, of course, is a criss-cross of reflected and refracted rays which, although radiantly complicated, alleviate the darkness and give us a season, yet again, to see and live in a new light.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.4k followers
November 3, 2014
Douglas Petersen is a mild-mannered biochemist in his early 50s. He craves order and although he thinks he has a good sense of humor and the ability to enjoy himself, he isn't one to loosen his inhibitions frequently, or give up plans for spontaneity. He and his wife, Connie, have a son, Albie, who is planning to go to college once the summer ends. And then one night, Douglas' life is upended when Connie awakens him.

"I said I think our marriage has run its course. Douglas, I think I want to leave you."

Connie's declaration throws Douglas completely for a loop. But she isn't ready to make a definitive decision on their marriage just yet. They had planned to take Albie on a European tour over the summer (which they nicknamed "The Grand Tour") in an effort to show him some of the world's greatest art, architecture, and history. Douglas has the entire trip planned down to the minute. Connie still wants to go on the trip, and not reveal their discussions to Albie, and when they return from their travels, she'll make a decision.

"To contemplate a life without her; I found it inconceivable. Literally so. I was not able to conceive of it. And so I decided that it could not be allowed to happen."

Douglas is determined to save his marriage, and approaches their trip with utter gusto. But Douglas' need to keep everyone on schedule, his obsessive reading travel and art history books and regurgitating the information at will, and his desire for order exacerbates many of the couple's problems, not to mention furthers the tension between him and Albie, whom Douglas believes has always favored his mother. And although they all try (Connie and Douglas more than Albie) to keep on trying, it isn't long before everything goes horribly awry.

Us is the story of a man always in control who finds a situation he cannot control—and one he cares about more than everything. He wants to prove to Connie that she shouldn't give up on their relationship, and he is determined to try to salvage his relationship with his son. But can a person really change their nature? Can the issues that have arisen throughout a relationship suddenly disappear?

The book switches between past and present, with Douglas chronicling The Grand Tour and the events they encounter, as well as reminiscing about their relationship from the start, when the two wholly different people met and charmed each other into eventually building a life together. Douglas certainly sees the tensions and issues that have occurred through the years, but for a man who is so intelligent, he isn't particularly observant or attuned to his emotions or others'.

David Nicholls' One Day was one of the best books I read in 2010, and the movie was one of my favorites as well. Needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating this book, but sadly, I found myself really disappointed. I thought the book went on for far too long and just kept repeating the same themes—Douglas cannot be spontaneous, Connie is frustrated by this, Douglas gets upset with Albie, etc. Even certain incidents in the plot seemed straight out of central casting—saying the wrong things when attempting to speak a foreign language, getting stoned in Amsterdam and running into prostitutes, etc.

But the biggest problem I had with Us was that the book was narrated by Douglas, and I didn't really like his character very much. Sure, he's self-deprecating, and knows what his shortcomings are, but I didn't find him particularly sympathetic—in fact, I didn't love any of the characters. I'm sad that I didn't enjoy it, but other reviews I've seen on Amazon really had, so maybe suddenly all of my sappiness disappeared...
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,850 followers
November 16, 2014
There is something marvelously cathartic about Us. David Nicholls, graced by both Thalia and Melpomene, succeeds in making a tender salad out of raw satire. Humor, whether it’s on the page or the screen, is so hard to do well. When it works, really truly works, we’re wiping away tears of hilarity mingled with tears of sadness. Because what makes us laugh most deeply, what brings on that cathartic release, is comedy and tragedy sharing the stage.

Douglas Petersen is in his early fifties and his wife, Connie, thinks she may want a divorce. She’s not entirely certain, but at any rate, they have a long-planned trip to Europe with their teenaged son to get through, so let’s take the summer and see how things go, shall we? Their son Albie, barely on speaking terms with his father for reasons anyone who has parented a teenager or who has ever been a teenager will understand (namely, that the loathed parent exists), balks at spending several weeks schlepping around the Continent with his parents. He agrees to go only out of adoration for his mother. They are, as Douglas explains, a “small family, somewhat meagre, and I think we each of us feel sometimes that it is a little too small, and each wish there was someone else there to absorb some of the blows.”

Douglas determines that this Grand Tour of Europe is his chance to make his wife fall in love with him all over again and to close the rift with his son.

It is the simplest of premises: how one man tries to save his small but splintered family. It doesn’t even sound all that interesting, really. Oh, but I couldn’t put this down. I didn’t want to put it down. And I laughed and cried all the way through.

I confess I’d never heard of David Nicholls, despite his wildly popular novel One Day (2009) and being a huge fan of the movie Starter for 10, which I learned is a Nicholls’ novel and a screenplay he wrote. I plan to catch up if his other novels are as deeply satisfying as Us.

The story is structured as a series of present moments punctuated by the past, recounted by Douglas, a methodical, staid, and unprepossessing scientist who once devoted his research to the genetic structure of the fruit fly. How he managed to enthrall and hang onto Connie, a blithe spirit, a moody, beautiful artiste, is revealed in self-conscious wonder and tenderness by her still-smitten husband.

It would be easy to feel exasperation and pity for a man whose son regards him with such sullen disdain and whose wife trifles with their twenty-year marriage, but Douglas is never mawkish. Bewildered, yes, but his fumbling determination is endearing and empathetic. And, for heaven’s sake, the unraveling of the trip is just so very funny. Nicholls injects a series of slapstick events into the Petersen’s traipsing through Europe, but the comedy routine is always tinged with Douglas’ own sadness and anticipation: will he save his marriage or not?

The adventure takes on a breathless singularity when Albie, in a fit of pique over an unintended insult by his father, abandons his parents in Amsterdam and disappears with a peripatetic busker from New Zealand. Connie decides the trip is over for her, too, and returns to England. At the eleventh hour, Douglas realizes this is his chance to be a hero to his wife: he decides to stay on in Europe, find his son and make things right. What ensues is a comedy of errors that lands him in jail, in the middle of a school of stinging jellyfish, and in the arms of a sympathetic Scandinavian divorcee. How it all comes together, or falls apart at the end, you really must discover for yourself.

At its heart—and it’s such a very big heart, indeed—Us is the portrait of a marriage, one that will be very familiar to those of us who’ve spent at least half our lives as part of an Us, and perhaps a cautionary tale for those who have not. It is all the taking for granted, the piling up of misdemeanors large and small, the loss of joy in the drudgery of day to day rolled up into a one-sided love story and the coming-of-age of a husband and father. Poignant and hilarious, Us is also hopeful, awkward, darling, and full of joy.

Profile Image for Reeka (BoundbyWords).
361 reviews77 followers
January 12, 2015
As seen on my blog:

I tried to give love another chance. The love for David Nicholls' books that is. I will admit, I liked Us many degrees more than I enjoyed the mess that was One Day , and even laughed at loud on more than one occasion. But as a whole, Us was a self-indulgent, teeth grinder of a book. The main character was a mess, and rightly so, because his wife and son's characters were pretty much the scum of the earth.

I have never felt more inclined to throw a book at my wall, with hopes of actually injuring a few choice characters within. Us was a portrayal of the shining moments of love, and the darkened moments of it's decline. Douglas Petersen is on the verge of losing his wife, but for no good reason, in my opinion. Connie Petersen wakes up in the middle of one night with the courage to utter some despairing words: "... I think our marriage has run it's course. Douglas, I think I want to leave you. " What ensues is a maddening switch of timelines between present, and past. 

Present: Douglas, Connie and their son Albie have gone on their pre-booked Grand Tour of Europe, despite Connie's statement, but to the inner joy of Douglas. He hopes to win his wife back, and finally gain some respect from his son while he's at it.

Past: Douglas recounts his unexpected love affair with Connie-starting from before they even met. When they do meet, there couldn't be less fanfare, and more effort on Douglas's part to convince us that what he and Connie shared up until a certain point was pure, and utter, magic.

I was having none of it, and maybe that was Nicholl's intention. The story was Douglas's perspective, his view on what he thought the people around him were feeling, and expressing. I would have loved to have Connie's side of the story, happening simultaneously with her husband's. I wanted to know the thoughts of a woman that I only grew to hate more and more as the narrative progressed-Connie was selfish, dissatisfied, and wholly unlikable. I feel as though we were sometimes meant to see Douglas as the enemy, but personally, I wanted to shelter him the entire time. I wanted him to know that he was doing a fantastic job of being a father, and keeping his family provided for. I wanted the whole book to turn into a big "finding yourself" for him. I wanted Connie and Albie to take their self-centered selves into some other book, somewhere else. 

Nicholl's writing was thought-provoking, the multiple lines I highlighted was proof of that. There were profound statements that spoke to me about my own state of affairs, made words out of thoughts I have never verbalized. Us definitely was a subjective novel, laid out in a way that allows readers to see themselves in either Douglas or Connie, or even Albie. It was a test of my patience, for sure, and I walked away having picked a side. Whose side will you choose?

Recommended for Fans of: Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Doppler
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,779 reviews14.2k followers
November 15, 2014
3.5 Douglas, a bit of a nerd but so still in love with his wife, I immediately took to his character. Loved the dry wit in which this story is told and all the talk about art on their travels through Europe. But I had a big problem relating to the main premise of this novel. After being told his wife wants to leave him, she talks him into going on their planned trip with their son albie. I tried to picture myself or my husband going off on a major holiday after this type of discussion and just couldn't. We have been married many years, just as Douglas and Connie in the book, and both of us would be so devastated we probably would not be emotionally functional.

Yet, the story is an engaging one, well written for sure. Never took to the character of Connie, thought her selfish though she maintains she still loved Douglas. A good look though at a marriage where one spouse wants something different than the other. So a good read if one can suspend belief, or maybe their are marriages and people out there who can put side their thoughts and emotions to go through something lime this. Just know I couldn't but the writing and some of the insights made this very readable and I did want to see what happens at the end of their trip. Douglas just seems too good to be real.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,484 reviews843 followers
August 11, 2023
‘Everyone! This is my lovely brother, Douglas. Be nice to him, he’s shy!’ My sister liked nothing more than pointing at shy people and bellowing SHY! Hello, hi, hey there Douglas, said my competitors and I contorted myself onto a tiny folding chair between a handsome, hairy man in black tights and a striped vest, and an extremely attractive woman.

‘I’m Connie,’ she said.

‘Pleased to meet you, Connie,’ I said, scalpel sharp, and that was how I met my wife.”

Touching, funny, sad and extremely frustrating. I kept thinking “NO, Douglas! Don’t SAY that! Just stop! ARGH$#!” Scalpel sharp he's not.

But that’s the point. Connie loves Douglas in spite of his obsessive nagging and worrying, which is nothing like that of her arty-party London friends. She’s pretty and popular, he’s nerdy and not. Miss Extrovert, meet Mr Asperger. But he’s smart and can make a battery out of a lemon!

He tells us compared to his A4 sheet of past relationships, she has a three-drawer filing cabinet.

Douglas tells their story in pieces, following their Grand Tour of Europe while reminiscing about the last 25 years. It’s a tale of love and friendship, and how they learned to accommodate each other as the bumped along through successes and over tragedies.

“Connie was, in those days, ferociously untidy. . .it was not unusual for her to reach into the pocket of a capacious coat for keys and to pull out a small wrench, a stolen ashtray, a desiccated apple-core or the stone of a mango. . .But, for the most part, I didn’t mind. Light travels differently in a room that contains another person; it reflects and refracts so that even when she was silent or sleeping I knew that she was there.”

Now Douglas is intent on ensuring 17-year-old son Albie is prepared for every worst-case scenario in an uncertain future world by bullying him over homework day in and day out and belittling his choice of photography over science (sure, that’ll help). Meanwhile, Albie would rather wing it, like Mum.

Connie tells Douglas she might want to split up soon, but first, she wants the three of them to do the Grand Tour. Douglas, grasping for this lifeline (maybe he can win her back!), goes overboard, printing up detailed itineraries with everything scheduled, pre-booked, and pre-paid, with stops at all the major art museums for his arty family.

On the trip, feeling his father is ashamed of him, Albie finally rebels and takes off with a wild accordion player for countries unknown.

Connie returns to England, while Douglas feels compelled to repair the damage and track his son down and fetch him home to his mother.

There’s a wealth of love and tenderness between them, and Connie has always seemed to understand the words that Douglas hasn’t been able to bring himself to say, although Douglas is now starting to doubt it.

“…my wife at fifty-two years old seems to me as attractive as the day I first met her. If I were to say this out loud, she would say, ‘Douglas, that’s just a line. No one prefers wrinkles, no one prefers grey.’ To which I’d reply, ‘But none of this is a surprise. 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.’

Perhaps she would have liked to hear this but I had never got around to saying it out loud. I had always presumed there would be time and now, sitting on the edge of the bed at four a.m., no longer listening out for burglars, it seemed that it might be too late.”

It’s interesting to watch Douglas and Albie grow up on their big tour, and I can see why this was longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. I’ll be thinking about these people for a long time.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,545 reviews601 followers
March 7, 2021
[3.3] Us is an assemblage of scenes from a courtship, marriage and parenthood. Witty and tender, not many novels follow a relationship and its unraveling so exhaustively. There were parts that resonated deeply with me. Unfortunately, by the halfway point, its 400 pages became plodding and repetitious. And I had only one thought for both the marriage and the book - Get it over with!
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,478 reviews7,775 followers
December 17, 2014
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Douglas and Connie have been married for a small eternity. They’re about to become empty nesters once their son leaves home and Douglas is excited to start a new chapter in their lives. Connie is excited about starting a new chapter too . . . she just doesn’t want Douglas to be included in her book any longer. With a family holiday already planned and booked, Douglas sets his sights on changing Connie’s mind and winning her back. But is that even possible when your relationship is pretty much dead in the water?

“After nearly a quarter of a century, the questions about our distant paths have all been posed and we’re left with ‘how was your day?’ and ‘when will you be home?’ and ‘have you put the bins out?’ Our biographies involve each other so intrinsically now that we’re both on nearly every page. We know the answers because we were there, and so curiosity becomes hard to maintain; replaced, I suppose, by nostalgia.”

I’m waaaaaay overdue on writing a review for Us and I’m not quite sure why since I quite enjoyed this book. I love a good ol’ “paint by numbers” type of romance every once in awhile, but I really dig the type of realistic fiction (that’s a thing, right?) written about in this novel. Being someone who has been married for infinity myself, it’s nice to see a story deal with real issues. I loved this premise of taking a journey to discover where everything went wrong and realizing that maybe it was never right. I loved how I couldn’t make any assumptions about what was going to happen. And I loved Douglas. If you’re looking for a book that will bring you some raw emotion and a lot of relationship realities, Us might be the book for you.

Oh, and if this becomes a movie PLEEEEEEEAAAAASE let Ricky Gervais play Douglas. Please?????

Commercial Photography

ARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,027 reviews374 followers
July 13, 2018
O Casamento e as Vicissitudes da Identidade Reprimida

Doug é a água fria derramada sobre a fervura de Connie!
Racional, organizado, previsível ... Doug contrasta com uma Connie inconstante, emocional e criativa.
As diferenças de ambos são peças dum puzzle que encaixam na perfeição, formando um quadro de equilibrada completude.

Porém, toda a bela tem senão, e no caso concreto do relacionamento deste par, esta dá pelo nome de Rotina.
A dita rotina sufoca a veia artística de Connie, que ao fim de quase um quarto de século de casamento, foi assaltada por um desejo indómito de voar a solo.
Afinal, quem era ela fora daquele Nós intemporal?
Era uma questão que urgia responder antes que o peso dos anos lhe cortasse as asas ainda por estrear!

E foi assim, que num impulso de coragem e determinação, Connie interrompe uma noite de sono de Doug, para a grande revelação!
Porém, Doug permanece de coração amarrado à sua bela Connie, e está determinado a lutar pela continuidade da sua relação.
Boa sorte, Doug!...

Moral da história:
Se num relacionamento, um dos envolvidos se vê constrangido a abdicar duma relevante parte de si, o final está latente e eminente!
Mais tempo... menos tempo... a fragilidade do Nós está lá, ameaçando quebrá-lo a qualquer instante...
Porém, no terreno assaz movediço duma relação, nada é inflexível nem imutável, e o veto do amor intervém, consertando ou libertando:

Ou Vai, ou Racha!... ;)
Profile Image for Bonnie Brody.
1,214 reviews187 followers
October 8, 2014

I loved 'One Day' by David Nicholls and approached this book with enthusiastic anticipation. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I found the characters dull and prosaic, lacking the ability to to garner my interest.

Douglas, the male protagonist, is a biochemist with as much personality as moss. His wife, Connie is two-dimensional. Once an artist and party animal, she now works in a gallery. As the book opens, Connie tells Douglas "I think our marriage has run its course. Douglas, I think I want to leave you." They have a seventeen year old son named Albie who is heading off to photography school. Connie feels that once Slbie leaves, there will be a hole in the marriage that can't be filled.

Despite Connie's proclamation, the family decides to embark on a European vacation and it is Douglas's hope that he will be able to win Connie back. Things go from bad to worse on this vacation, and the inherent hostility between Albie and Douglas comes to a head, with Albie disappearing.

I just couldn't buy into the story. It had little appeal for me and finishing it was a struggle. I expected more from this author.
Profile Image for Mish.
222 reviews100 followers
November 3, 2014
US is poignant, convincing and laugh out loud hilarious novel that give us an intimate insight into a 25 year marriage – a marriage that’s run its course.

Douglas and Connie Petersen are preparing for the ‘Grand Tour’ across Europe, taking their 17-year-old son, Albie, before leaving home for university. This will be their last tour together as a whole family, and to educate, prepare Albie for his departure. However, at 4am one morning Connie drops a bombshell; she tells Douglas she can’t see the rest of her life with him, once Albie is gone, and is thinking of a divorce. But they’ve both agreed for Albie sake, they should continue with the ‘Grand Tour’, as planned.

US is narrated by Douglas as they journey across Europe, who believes he will win back the heart of his wife and to restore the gap between his son by his meticulously planned trip. But the harder he tried, the worse it got; accidently booking an undesirable hotel in Amsterdam, being stung by jellyfish in Barcelona, a run in with irate bikers, and generalLY saying wrong things that would get up Connie’s nose, and would ultimately drive his son away to travel with an accordion busker.

At the beginning of US, I couldn’t understand why Connie would want to leave this him. Douglas seemed like a decent man, and in his own awkwardness, he does make Connie laugh. I thought her reason to ‘rediscover herself’ was a bit selfish. Why couldn’t she do it with Douglas?

Through alternative chapters, Douglas reminisces of the time they first met and the years that follow. Douglas is biochemist, and what I’d describe as plain, straight-laced type of guy, a bit pedantic and likes order. Whereas Connie is the artistic type, spontaneous and free spirited in nature but beautiful lady - and Albie’s inherited Connie’s free spirited nature. Even though they are poles apart, Connie found these traits in Douglas so appealing, and they clicked. It wasn’t until the later parts of their marriage, when they came together to make important decision - such as parenting issue, job security and home relocation - that their differing values collided; and that included Douglas relationship with his son. The entire family dynamics felt so draining for all parties, and I could see where Connie was coming from.

US is a simple story and while it’s hilarious at times it did give my heart a gentle tug. Douglas voice had appeal and honesty that was so engaging and being married for 25 years, a few of issues that were brought up felt real and relatable.

Superb novel. It has now made me want to read ONE DAY.
Profile Image for Michael Robotham.
Author 39 books5,898 followers
September 3, 2014
I loved ONE DAY and this book is equally good. Poignant. Funny. Moving. Surprising. David Nicholls creates fantastic characters, who are flawed and infuriating, but very easy to care about.
Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews375 followers
June 24, 2021
3.5 stars

52 year old Douglas narrates this book and it starts out hilarious. David Nicholls' wit is on full display. I was laughing out loud. As the narrative progresses there are fewer and fewer laughs and more poignancy. Douglas is a scientist while his wife Connie is an artist now working as a rep for other artists. They've been married for 20 years and have one teenage son, Albie. At the start of the book Connie wakes up Douglas to say that she thinks she wants them to separate. Douglas is devastated but has hopes that an upcoming "grand tour" of Europe which they have planned will give him to the opportunity to save his marriage. The problem is that Douglas who was a nice nerdy kid when we first met him (we learn of their first meeting and early years in flashback) has become a boring, obsessive father who can't relax or stop criticizing his teenage son Albie. He has planned out every moment of the grand tour (3 weeks) by the hour, what they will see and do, which train they will take for the next city etc. and he allows no deviations from this itinerary. Albie does a lot of eye rolling and guffawing The grand tour turned into a very different experience for everyone.

I enjoyed this book but would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if Douglas' philosophizing about life and his marriage had been cut in half. It was too repetitive and became annoying. Towards the end I skipped a few of these monologues.

This book is now a series on Masterpiece Theatre. The book is much more nuanced than the series but both are worth your time if you are interested in family dynamics, Europe and art. Both offer lot of descriptions or great shots of various European cities as well as art along with Douglas' lectures on art taken straight from his guidebook. (I'd prefer to rent the headsets).
Profile Image for Gemma.
71 reviews20 followers
September 5, 2017
Us is a novel about a marriage in crisis. It’s well-paced, humorous and contains many great insights about marital life. Connie, who works in an art gallery, tells her husband, Douglas, a biochemist, she wants to leave him. This happens just before they are about to embark on a grand tour of Europe together. Douglas persuades Connie that they need not cancel their holiday.

The narrative alternates between past and present. Nichols is particularly good at dialogue and finding the humour in typical modern day situations. An essentially light and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Eddie Owens.
Author 7 books54 followers
March 24, 2017
I think I'm done with David Nicholls.

I enjoyed Starter for Ten and One Day was ok, but The Understudy was rank, and now this.

There is a blurb on the front cover calling it "The perfect book". His mum must have written it.

This is meant to be a love story but it's really not. Douglas and Connie would never be together. She is an arty. bohemian type who hates him and only gets married to put some structure in her shitty life.

Then Connie hates herself for giving up on her dreams, so she spends her life belittling Douglas and winding him up.

Douglas is the scientist who can't believe that this beautiful women would deign to shag him, let alone marry him, so he is obsessed by her.

It's not impossible for different types to be together, but it's got to be based on more than one partner's schoolboy crush. See Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe.

On every page, Douglas bores on about how much he loves Connie and how great things were once upon a time. But then, when he tells the story in flashbacks, things were never great; they were always horrible and awkward. He hates her friends, her lifestyle, her family, her books, her music and the list is endless.

The book itself reminds me of certain other things, like Burton and Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Taylor's depiction of the mad harpy. Also, with all the navel gazing, I was reminded of Tony Parsons' book Man and Wife. Is Nicholls aware of these things when he's writing?

There are the usual contrived Nicholls' scenes of embarrassment: sunburn on one side of your face, a middle aged man wearing ridiculous clothes - don't ask - getting arrested in Italy, stung by jellyfish, eating red hot chilis and making a scene in a restaurant, etc, etc. And of course it all happens to Douglas, not the perfect Connie.

Things do happen to people, just not in the ways described by the author.

I've tried several books now and I am bored by the style and the repetition.

I only stuck with this book because I wanted to see if he mentioned any of the places that I'd been to in Italy. In the end, I wished, I'd just reviewed my holiday snaps on my phone.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nood-Lesse.
330 reviews172 followers
March 16, 2018
Il petrolio del romanziere

Ho detto che secondo me il nostro matrimonio è arrivato al capolinea, Douglas. Penso che ti lascerò
Siamo solo a pagina uno...

-NOI- delimita la famiglia Petersen composta dal cinquantaquattrenne Douglas, la cinquantaduenne Connie e dal diciassettenne Albie. È una famiglia in crisi come quasi tutte le famiglie con almeno un adolescente in squadra. Il manager Douglas si gioca il tutto per tutto organizzando un Grand Tour che da Londra li porterà fino a Pompei toccando Parigi, Amsterdam, Monaco, Venezia, Firenze...
Le ragioni sono differenti ma l’escamotage narrativo del viaggio nel vecchio continente è lo stesso scelto da Monninger. Se in quel caso avevo consigliato una lettura under 25, in questo caso sposto il cursore over 40.
Il libro mi è piaciuto, se la storia fosse stata montata cronologicamente sarebbe stata assai meno appassionante. L’uso del flash back, oltre ad impreziosire i ricordi consente di dilatare il racconto del presente e creare attesa in chi legge. Il flash back serve anche a spiegare gli eventi che hanno portato alla situazione attuale è un indugio senza indugio è assai più produttivo della divagazione. -NOI- Non diventerà certo un classico della letteratura mondiale, ma ha il merito di essere un libro onesto, autoironico (in Douglas Petersen sembra di intravedere Nicholls quanto in Harry Rent si intuisce la sagoma di Sarvas).
Ho fatto diverse sottolineature, una di esse mi è sembrato fosse una dedica per me:

Dal punto di vista evolutivo, emozioni come la paura, il desiderio o la rabbia hanno un senso e una funzione, ma la nostalgia è assolutamente inutile, perché ci fa tendere verso qualcosa che abbiamo perduto per sempre.

Non ho ben chiaro perché tutto ciò che è nostalgico mi attragga come un magnete. Nicholls come altri scrittori stigmatizza la nostalgia dopo avervi tuffato i frollini a colazione
Perfino i festeggiamenti avevano un che di lugubre: i veneziani trovavano spiritoso mascherarsi da scheletri, forse un retaggio delle antiche epidemie… Saranno stati il silenzio e le ombre, i canali scuri o l'assenza di verde, ma in quelle viuzze deserte, in quelle piazze battute dalla pioggia venivo colto da una malinconia stranamente soffusa di piacere. Non mi ero mai sentito così triste e allo stesso tempo così felice in vita mia.

Victor Hugo scrisse che la malinconia è la gioia di essere tristi. A Nicholls replico che la nostalgia che lui definisce assolutamente inutile è la fonte d’energia primaria di ogni romanziere, una fonte non rinnovabile, petrolio, non vento. Siccome il tema mi affascina da sempre in tutte le sue sfaccettature, condivido questo link che mi trascino dietro da svariati anni:

La colonna sonora, che scelgo fra una decina di citazioni di rilievo, è questa:
Ora in quel punto c'era un suonatore ambulante, avrà avuto l'età di Albie, che cantava una canzone degli Oasis scritta prima che lui nascesse, storpiandone malamente le parole.
En maibi, iur gonna bi de una u saif mi…
En after ol, iur mai wanderwol…
(Potrei essere io quello che canta)

Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,027 reviews374 followers
July 13, 2021
Marriage and the Common Case of Unexpressed Identity

The nerd type of guy can easily fall for a glamorous artistic moody beautiful woman!
It's an obviously expected event, cos we can see it as a simple case of physics applied to human relations.
A very simple case indeed -- the one that joins protons and electrons to balance the unbalanced
That's what happenned in the Us of Connie and Doug -- individually they were unbalanced, but together they conquered some stability.

However, for the moody kind, routine can be a dangerous damaging factor. After a quarter of a century of Us, Connie was more in the mood for a "me myself and I" kind of journey.
After all, who was she, outside of what seemed an almost infinite Us?... She didn't know it, did she?! Would she die without knowing it?!...

So... in the middle of the night, she woke up a sleepy, startling Doug, for the big revelation.
And then it was arranged that after a long tour around Europe with their beloved son, their marriage would be officially over!
But Doug belonged to the steady kind and was still much in love and willing to fight for his Connie like an honourable knight! And... that long journey around Europe seemed the perfect chance to conquer his precious lady back...
Such a noble project would certainly provide the required happy ending!
Nice and easy for the rational mind of Douglas, but ...

And now, for the sake of your eventual reading pleasure, I'll have to stop right here!
The guessing game is about to begin!...

All in all, this is a book about a marital crisis caused by individuality versus marriage.
In the end, I felt quite happy for being single!... 😉😜
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews327 followers
December 16, 2015
This is another beautifully crafted story by David Nicholls. His writing is absolutely, brilliantly, very British-ly perfect, so many passages vacillating between comedy and heartbreak, characters trying to communicate and often misunderstood. The main protagonist Douglas, while a scientist, has an offbeat way of looking at the world with insights that are metaphorically creative and laugh out loud hilarious:

‘I was wary because parties, and dinner parties in particular, had always seemed to be a pitiless form of gladiatorial combat, with laurel garlands bestowed to the most witty, successful and attractive, and the corpses of the defeated lying bleeding on the painted floorboards.’

Beyond the writing, this is as realistic a portrayal of a family as I’ve read in a while: people who love each other, but sometimes don’t like each other. Each character is expertly drawn in all of their flawed and maddening splendor, yet each is eminently likable in their individuality.

'There's a saying, cited in popular song, that if you love someone you must set them free. Well, that's just nonsense. If you love someone, you bind them to you with heavy metal chains.'

And I love that Nicholls didn’t go for the wrapped-up ending with the big bow, years of conflict and discord suddenly forgotten and instead gives us truth and, in that, beauty, even if it isn’t always as we’d hoped for or imagined. If you want to know whether you’ll enjoy this story, read the passages/quotes and that will tell you all you need to know. For me, the entire book was wonderfully quotable.
Profile Image for Sarah.
322 reviews11 followers
February 24, 2015
Read this and other reviews at Ampersand Read.

Ah, the Petersons. What a set of messed up hooligans. Here is the central issue with why everyone just can't quite get along: Douglas is a hapless scientist, who just wants everyone to like him. Connie is artistic, dreamy, messy, and doesn't like to be shown the concrete of things all the time. Albie, their son, takes after Connie. Plus, he's a teenager, so he's got that not going for him.

Everyone annoys each other here, and they all ganged up to annoy me as a reader.

Now, Nicholls also wrote One Day, a heartbreaking, interestingly formatted novel about two people who just can't stay apart. It was made into a meh movie with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (that guy from Across the Universe). Nicholls was great with that one.

And in this one...I hated everyone. Which bums me out to say, but...every single one of the Petersons is awful. At first I thought it was just Connie and Albie. They were downright terrible to Douglas! And they were pretty awful people. I could give a little leeway to Albie because he was a Teenage Character going through a "Phase" (you know, the stereotypical one where one hates ones parents, although in this case he only really hates Douglas). But Connie...she looks down on her husband with derision throughout the entire novel. Any expression of affection is done in a pitying way. Even during flashbacks, where we supposedly see the days they were the most happiest, she's a stuck up woman who thinks Douglas is merely cute and clever. Whereas Douglas is just besotted, and perpetually in a can't-believe-a-woman-this-beautiful-could-be-into-me state of mind.

When Douglas messes up, Connie and Albie join in on shaking their heads, locking their doors, shutting him out. At no point in the novel did I sympathize with either of them. Why would Douglas want to keep these kind of poisonous relationships around, is what I actually thought at one point. Bad, I know.

And then I didn't like Douglas. Because he's just so darn affable. He wants so very badly to make this all right (when he's done actually very little to deserve such derision), that he steps over the line of sympathy. At just the moment I was about to give up on him (and, perhaps, the book), he does start to build up a spine. He rallies. He goes after something. Which had me cheering for him again. Okay, I thought. I could get behind this character. I could want him to be happy again, even if its with these nasty people. But even that's not enough. Because Douglas is like a sad puppy. And when someone shows that they don't like him again, he goes back to being a doormat. The ending is a sad, flat note on a family that already had a dismal outlook.
Profile Image for Ken.
2,204 reviews1,329 followers
September 29, 2020
Douglas has planned a trip around Europe as a perfect remedy for his failing marragie to Connie.
The Grand Tour is devised after Connie wants to leave him seeing as their son Albie also also set to depart the family home for college.
Surly this failsafe plan of bring the three together will succeed...

The trip seems to be going quite well on their first stop in Paris, though teenager Albie would quite like to do his own thing in the French capital.
It's the train journey to Amsterdam where the first cracks between Doug and Albie start to appear.
Once they've arrived in Holland and the itinerary is no longer being adhered to then the whole trip looks in tatters.

The travel aspect really enticed me into the story as was curious to see which city was next on the agenda.
The three main characters are all well defined and clear with which type of trip they'd all like.

Whilst I felt Douglas was trying his best for the whole group to have a good time, his regimental plans took all the fun out of these beautiful locations.
I love visiting art galleries too, I've enjoyed both the Louvre and Van Gouh's museums too but you need to mix it up with other landmarks and attractions to get the best of the local culture.

The organised Doug and whimsical Connie hardly seemed like the most compatible couple.
It would have been more interesting if everyone had equal input to the travel plans.

I really liked Douglas first person narrative though madding with some of the ways he acted on the trip.
I'd liked to think that he learnt a lot especially during the second half of the journey...
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,660 followers
October 21, 2014
Mild-mannered biochemist Douglas Petersen hopes to reconnect with his wife and distant teenage son during an elaborate European tour. This Booker-longlisted follow-up to Nicholls’s bestselling One Day is a charming but unsentimental look at a family in crisis. The plot may sound terribly clichéd – and at first I indeed feared that that would be the case – but the deft mixture of past and present and Douglas’s endearing first-person narration save the novel from being mundane.

I found it to be a very touching picture of a marriage in decline, and of a father’s realization that he needs to change his ways if he is not to lose his son forever. It is a gently tragicomic tale, with the madcap humor of the travel scenes tempering the sadness of this one family’s dysfunction.

See my full review at The Bookbag.

Related reads: You’ll find a somewhat similar narrator in The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and a comparable main character in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,525 reviews979 followers
January 13, 2015

Thou only has taught me that I have a heart – thou only hast thrown a light deep downward and upward into my soul. Thou only hast revealed me to myself; for without thy aid my best knowledge of myself would have been merely to know my own shadow – to watch it flickering on the wall, and mistake its fantasies for my own real actions ...
Now, dearest, dost thou understand what thou hast done for me? And is it not a somewhat fearful thought, that a few slight circumstances might have prevented us from meeting?
Nathaniel Hawthorne, a letter to Sophia Peabody
4 October 1840

Such a lovely and promising debut for a romantic novel, and a fitting quote to prepare the reader for the history of a memorable couple. Too bad I spent the rest of the journey (as in Grand Tour of European capitals and museums) being annoyed at the main character.

Tolstoy taught us that “Happiness is an allegory. Unhappiness a story.” The story of Douglas Petersen starts on the day his almost 30 years of marital bliss are revealed to be a sham. Just as his son Albie is ready to leave home and start college, his wife Connie informs him that she may want a divorce. In his own mind everything was fine and dandy. Douglas had his whole life mapped out, planned, settled. He just forgot to consult his wife on the issue:

”’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?’”

In a last ditch attempt to save his marriage, Douglas decides to go on with the previous family plans of going on a last vacation with his son and wife, a Grand Tour of European best museums and most picturesque cities. The novel will follow the Petersen’s mishaps, reminiscent of the Chevy Chase Lampoon comedies, alternating with flashbacks of their years together, trying to pinpoint where the relationship went off the rails. As an additional headache, Douglas is struggling hard to reach out to his teenage son, whose rebellious phase started in early childhood and shows no signs of easing off:

... he suffers from a malaise that requires at least twelve hours of sleep, and yet is singularly incapable of commencing these twelve hours before two a.m.

I already knew Nicholls can write very convincing characters, ordinary people going about their everyday life, finding the beauty and the poetry of a romantic relationship in the middle of existential struggles and failures of communication. One Day was one of my top reads two years ago, but in that case I also had a problem relating to the male lead. Like Douglas here, he was too self-centered and too clueless about what goes on in his partner’s mind. I sometimes wonder if this is a recurring theme in the yin-yang dynamic of Nicholls, which taken to extremes boils down into a duel between materialism and idealism. The marriage of Douglas and Connie is an improbable one, like chalk and cheese, two opposing personalities that have little common ground to build a lasting edifice on. Douglas is a scientist, a researcher in biochemistry, pragmatic, an introvert, highly organized, verging on obsessive behaviour when it comes to cleaning and arranging his environment. By his own statement: ... it was true, I suppose, that I’d never got the hang of being young. . He doesn’t understand art and he has no patience for fiction, preferring to read history and biographies and scientific publications. Connie gently ridicules him at one point: I’ve always wondered who those freaks are who don’t read novels. And it’s you! Freak. , a warning shot that he ignores at the time. Most annoyingly for me, he seems completely devoid of a sense of humour, despite numerous and painful attempts at witticism.

Connie is everything that Douglas is not: outgoing, irreverent, promiscuous (!?), daring, a party girl that he only meets by a carefully arranged blind date in his sister’s apartment. She is a painter, and she is on a rebound from a tumultuous affair with one of her colleagues. Rather prosaic, a true stroke of good luck for Douglas, who would have been probably ignored at any other time.

I’m aware that couples tend to embellish ‘how we met’ folklore with all kinds of detail and significance. We shape and sentimentalise these first encounters into creation myths to reassure ourselves and our offspring that it was somehow ‘meant to be’.

If Douglas is distrustful of literature and art in general, preferring the cold data provided by science, Connie is interested in everything that goes on around her: Art, film, fiction, music; she seemed to have seen and read and listened to pretty much everything, with the passion and clear, uncluttered mind of the autodidact. .

Chalk and cheese but, as it probably happened with couples all over the world, each seeks in the other something that is missing in his or her own life. Douglas wants a bit of the dash and dazzle of the social graces, Connie wants some peace and stability after too many years on wild living:
Being with me, said Connie, was like carrying a large, old-fashioned fire extinguisher around with her at all times, and I took satisfaction in this.

To illustrate their opposing temperaments, I have a little dialogue from when Douglas is trying to teach Connie to play badminton:

Badminton lacks the young-executive swagger of squash or the romance of tennis, but it remains the world’s most popular racket sport and its best practitioners are world-class athletes with killer instincts.
‘A shuttlecock can travel at up to 220 miles an hour,’ I’d tell Connie, as she stood doubled over at the net. ‘Stop. Laughing!’
‘But it’s got feathers,’ she’d say, ‘and I feel embarrassed, swatting at this thing with feathers. It’s like we’re trying to kill this finch’ and then she’d laugh again.

You can probably see the danger in this attitude. Safety and a steady income can only carry you so far. After a couple of decades of this boring routine, you might want a little more excitement, some added challenge in your life. So Connie is ready to jump ship, and Douglas must look back and find in their past some reason, some motive strong enough to keep her by his side.

Beside the detailed account of their personal history, the novel spends a lot of time discussing art, tourism, cuisine, etc. while the family moves from Paris to Amsterdam, to Munich, Venice, Florence, Madrid, Barcelona. I have been to all of these places, and to most of the museums mentioned, and I am also familiar with most of the paintings referenced here, but I can understand how some readers might be less fascinated with this section of the novel. Luckily, Nicholls treats the subject in a light manner, with lots of black humor, as everything that can go wrong for Douglas will go disastrously wrong with a stubborn consistency. From booking rooms in a bawdy house to fracas with biker gangs, the bad karma culminates in the split of the family long before the vacation is over. Douglas can no longer pretend that things will work out fine if only he is persistent enough, and must for once be honest with himself about his own attitude problems, especially in trying to be a strict authoritarian with his rebel son.

‘Lonely’ is a troubling word and not one to be tossed around lightly. It makes people uncomfortable, summoning up as it does all kinds of harsher adjectives, like ‘sad’ or ‘strange’. I have always been well liked, I think, always well regarded and respected, but having few enemies is not the same as having many friends, and there was no denying that I was, if not ‘lonely’, more solitary than I’d hoped to be at that time.

Also: I had always been led to believe that ageing was a slow and gradual process, the creep of a glacier. Now I realise that it happens in a rush, like snow falling off a roof.

These last two quotes I think also illustrate why I like the prose of Nicholls, and his approach to the subject of romance, without frills and embellishment, but honest enough and true to what most of us experienced at one point or another. I cannot finish my review though without mentioning two aspects of is writing that I find less appealing:
- Some of the character traits are exaggerated, the difference in personalities is amplified for artistic reasons. I find it hard to believe that in thirty years of marriage the two remain true to their younger selves, that they do not rub off the rough corners and do not ‘borrow’ more from the style of the other. Douglas is still wary of fiction and Connie is still a loose cannon. Most of all, both of them are even more firmly entrenched in their respective camps, Douglas in his scientific dryness, Connie in her liberal arts. I don’t believe there can be such a strong dychotomy between science and art, they are not incompatible, one strong interest doesn not exclude the other.
- For a very intelligent adult, Douglas is making every major mistake possible in raising his son, deliberately pushing him away and not giving an inch from his rigid system of values that apparently he inherited from his own dour and intransigent father. The message being here that no matter how hard we try, in the end we turn into our own parents and are cursed to make the same mistakes as them when it is our turn to raise children.
- Lastly, as in One Day , the author is too fond of a low punch to extract emotion from his readers, by killing innocent characters out of the blue.

In conclusion, a very well written and emotionally charged novel that probably deserves a higher rating than the one my pet peeves decided on. I will be reading more from Nicholls, Starter For One looking like a good candidate for next.
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