Anmiryam's Reviews > Us

Us by David Nicholls
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it was amazing
bookshelves: literary-2014, print-arc, popular-fiction, edelweiss, favorites

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.

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Reading Progress

August 21, 2014 – Started Reading
August 21, 2014 – Shelved
August 23, 2014 –
page 84
August 24, 2014 –
page 168
August 25, 2014 –
page 235
August 25, 2014 –
page 325
August 25, 2014 – Finished Reading
August 31, 2014 – Shelved as: literary-2014
August 31, 2014 – Shelved as: print-arc
August 31, 2014 – Shelved as: popular-fiction
August 31, 2014 – Shelved as: edelweiss
December 8, 2014 – Shelved as: favorites

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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Elizabeth Great review, Anmiryam! Thank you!!!!

message 2: by Crystal (new)

Crystal Clark Interesting review :-) thanks

Anmiryam Thanks for commenting, Crystal! I hope you like the book as much as I did

Rachel Excellent review encapsulates my thoughts exactly

Anmiryam Thanks Rachel, I'm glad other people are feeling as excited about this book as I am.

Gina I am about to start this book and you have written an excellent review!

Lynn What a spot-on, perfect review! I am loving this book for all the reasons you cite. Beautifully articulated, thanks.

Lisa Van Gemert Yes, simply yes.

Suzan Lemont Agree with you 100% - you articulated what I couldn't in my own review. Thanks!

Rebecca Alcazaze A lovely, perfect review. Just finished it and couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks

Tracy S Perfectly said.

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