Violet wells's Reviews > Us

Us by David Nicholls
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it was ok
bookshelves: contemporary-british-fiction, 21st-century

There was much to admire about One Day, not least of all the brilliant one-liners about contemporary relationships, so I thought maybe Nicholls might have ironed out some of the faults of that novel and come up with something more comprehensively worthy of praise. However my overriding emotion while reading this novel was exasperation. How much you enjoy Us will be hugely dependent on how much sympathy you have for its narrator, Douglas Petersen.

Douglas is an industrial biochemist (though he comes across more as a prim and proper civil servant from the 1950s) so veers towards the cliché of the emotionally retarded scientist (except his intellect is at best mediocre and only scientific in the most humdrum manner); his wife was once an artist – yin and yang in other words. Their marriage bumbles along until one night Connie tells him she wants to leave him. Her discontent exacerbated by Douglas’ hapless antagonistic relationship with his son. Nicholls does himself no favours with the suffocating limitations imposed on him by his emotionally retarded narrator - to my mind, Nicholls unnecessarily magnifies the emotional haplessness of Douglas to the point of caricature. Douglas’ expectations are more often than not as self-righteous as they are absurd. He expects reward from pretty much his every gesture as if daily life is a scratchcard. He is left flailing and stunned by his son’s inability to see his ridiculous exhortations. He humiliates his son and wife in public and then blunders into repeating the faux pas again and again. And this is where the exasperation kicks in - there’s so little character development on his part for so long that the narrative becomes stiflingly predictable. When he goes to Florence his overriding memory is of the human statues outside the Uffizi. That alone for me would be grounds for his wife divorcing him!

It’s a really well structured novel. The now and then are seamlessly and artfully dovetailed together and the narrative also has a good easy flow to it. But it’s a very safe novel, little more than fluffy romantic comedy. Aimed, one suspects, at pleasing women, like One Day. But I’m not sure it has any new insights to offer on married life. Good novelists find largesse in the small; when Nicholls writes about the small in this novel it kind of stays small. Yes, now and again an incident of marital conflict will arouse a small smile of recognition but it’s more Coronation Street than Anna Karenina.
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Reading Progress

September 24, 2014 – Shelved
September 24, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
June 11, 2015 – Started Reading
June 24, 2015 – Finished Reading
December 9, 2015 – Shelved as: contemporary-british-fiction
March 7, 2016 – Shelved as: 21st-century

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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message 1: by Dolors (last edited Jun 25, 2015 03:27AM) (new)

Dolors You do know how to shoot your most sharp-edged criticism right at the core of a target, Violet. I see many commonalities between Douglas and other male protagonists created by Nicholls, they all suffer from Peter Pan's syndrome and blame the universe for their misfortunes...And so women are the ones in charge to mother them and guide them towards responsible "adulthood". How sexist does that sound? Five stars criticism for a two stars book!


Violet wells Hadn't thought of it in quite those terms but yes, you're spot on, Dolors. He knows most of his readers are women (most men apparently don't read novels) and so plays a trick of being sympathetic to women except his subtext subtly vindicates the template of men as little boys in need of guidance and women as social and emotional overseers, as if this is somehow admirable as a blueprint of men and women striving for an exalted union. It's indicative of the sentimentality that always spoils his novels I think.


message 3: by Dolors (last edited Jun 25, 2015 04:18AM) (new)

Dolors Violet wrote: "Hadn't thought of it in quite those terms but yes, you're spot on, Dolors. He knows most of his readers are women (most men apparently don't read novels) and so plays a trick of being sympathetic t..."

Your description of Douglas' public tantrums reminded me of Dexter, and I associate Dexter with a spoiled child, hence my comment... But then, I sympathized with Douglas when he was transfixed by the statues in the Uffizi Gallery!;P
At least Nicholls can steal a smile from time to time, which can't be said of Nicholas Sparks, whose books are also aimed at the female public (and which my mom adores, btw) and make me want to puck unfailingly. But where would be my English without those paperbacks? Heh, every coin has its heads and tails, I guess...


Violet wells Gotta say One Day made me smile a lot more than this one. Douglas just annoyed the hell out of me!


Violet wells Thanks Marita!


message 6: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Good novelists find largesse in the small; when Nicholls writes about the small in this novel it kind of stays small.

This is why I read your reviews ;-)
Plus I often agree with you about books and authors, this author being no exception.


message 7: by Jen (new)

Jen Nice review, Violet. I've hesitated on adding and from your review, it looks better left off my TBR.


message 8: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse  Walters Violet, I also read "One Day", and thought it was good...
Then when I saw the 'mess' that the movie was.. I was shocked to learn that the author wrote the script for the film too...( shocking.. couldn't be)...
I've had this book on my Kindle for a couple of years... ( a cheapie offer), but with so many mixed reviews .. and many other books on WANT to read list...I just might wait for a rainy day. ( not a cloud I the sky this week)... lol
Great fair review! Cheers!!!


Violet wells Fionnuala wrote: "Good novelists find largesse in the small; when Nicholls writes about the small in this novel it kind of stays small.

This is why I read your reviews ;-)
Plus I often agree with you about books an..."


Thanks Fi. The awful thing is I think I might be better at writing negative reviews than positive ones!


Violet wells Jen wrote: "Nice review, Violet. I've hesitated on adding and from your review, it looks better left off my TBR."

Thanks Jen. One Day is better if you want to try him out.


Violet wells Elyse wrote: "Violet, I also read "One Day", and thought it was good...
Then when I saw the 'mess' that the movie was.. I was shocked to learn that the author wrote the script for the film too...( shocking.. cou..."


That film was horrid! Happy the sun's still shining on you. We've actually had two nice days in England!


message 12: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita Such a well-argued critique, Violet. This is on my 'gr-recos' shelf but I doubt I'll ever read any Nicholls.


Violet wells Thanks Sam.


message 14: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Ouch! But well-justified, and your final paragraph shows why you gave it 2*, rather than just 1*.

I've quite enjoyed a couple of his previous books, but have held back on this. I think I'll wait a little longer.


message 15: by Carol (new)

Carol Great review, Violet. I started and then abandoned this novel.


message 16: by Rae (new)

Rae Meadows "When he goes to Florence his overriding memory is of the human statues outside the Uffizi. That alone for me would be grounds for his wife divorcing him! "

Ha! Indeed. One suspects the author didn't not remember enough from inside the Uffizi--or anything else about Florence--himself...


Violet wells Cecily wrote: "Ouch! But well-justified, and your final paragraph shows why you gave it 2*, rather than just 1*.

I've quite enjoyed a couple of his previous books, but have held back on this. I think I'll wait a..."


Yep, he's got talent, Cecily. It's almost like he's a bit lazy or lacking in ambition.


message 18: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Oh dear!


message 19: by Connie (new)

Connie G The reviews on this book seem to be both high and low. Thanks for letting us know your opinion of the book, Violet.


Violet wells Carol wrote: "Great review, Violet. I started and then abandoned this novel."

Thanks Carol. I never give up on books! It's the stubborn streak in my nature!


Violet wells Rae wrote: ""When he goes to Florence his overriding memory is of the human statues outside the Uffizi. That alone for me would be grounds for his wife divorcing him! "

Ha! Indeed. One suspects the author did..."


If you want to conclusively undermine the integrity of your narrator having him remember only the human statues on a visit to Florence is a pretty good way of doing it, Rae.


message 22: by Debbie "DJ" (new) - added it

Debbie "DJ" Loved reading your review Violet. I've had this on my "to read" list forever, but never seem to get to it. Now I'm happy I haven't!


Violet wells Debbie "DJ" wrote: "Loved reading your review Violet. I've had this on my "to read" list forever, but never seem to get to it. Now I'm happy I haven't!"

Thanks Debbie. A lot of people loved it. Its average rating is 3.66 which maybe is about right.


message 24: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee O your acidic tongue is so very sweet Violet ;)


Isabel Preza Ah, glad I am not the only one who felt this way. I felt like shaking Douglas all the way through, with his lack of emotional intelligence and his totally deluded expectations. Connie + Douglas were so wrong for each other that I was hoping they could just go their separate ways asap, plus I actually didn't like Connie either :/

Nicely written although I am glad it's over. Thanks for your brilliant review!


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