Audio book review from Audible – Review by Helen O’Leary
(narrated by Justin Salinger)
This is the first book by David Nicholls since the huge success of his novel ‘One Day’ five years ago. His long labour over this novel was seemingly worthwhile as the book was included on the long list of the Man Booker Prize and picked up several book awards in 2014.
Douglas Peterson is a nerdy scientist who, by his own admission, punched well above his scrawny weight when it came to landing himself a wife and married the beautiful, funny and charming artist Connie. After twenty-five years together one night Connie shakes Douglas awake to inform him she thinks their marriage has run its course. Douglas who adores Connie is devastated, and petrified at the thought of spending the remainder of his life alone.
Douglas and Connie have a teenage son called Albie, and in the summer that follows Connie’s announcement they take a last family holiday together- a Grand Tour of Europe. Connie conceived the idea for the trip and its purpose is to introduce Albie to the cultural treasures of Europe, a coming of age trip before he leaves home for university. As they travel across Europe visiting the great galleries and museums family tensions surface. Douglas had secretly hoped the holiday can revive his foundering marriage and improve a tense relationship with his son but things don’t go as he envisioned. The analytical and conservative traits that make Douglas an excellent biochemist spill over into holiday time. Meticulous holiday schedules and itineraries irritate his artistic son and wife and Douglas is offended by their mockery.
The book shifts back and forth to describe the meeting of Connie and Douglas and their courtship. Blissful years of early marriage were followed by pain when their baby daughter died and this loss created the first tiny fractures in their relationship. The book is sad and touching in places but it is also witty and laugh-out-loud funny. On holidays the hapless Douglas, so earnest and buttoned up, is constantly struggling to embrace art and spontaneity. This attempted embrace goes against every fibre of his being and the consequences are hilarious.
When you listen to an audio book the voice of the narrator can illuminate a story or just be plain irritating. The reader of Us is Justin Salinger and his tone, accent and inflection sound like the perfect embodiment of Douglas. With his narration he does an excellent job of bringing both the comedy and the poignancy of the book to the fore.
Compared to the commercially successful One Day this book seems like a literary leap forwards, for David Nicholls. It is witter, weightier and makes for a very enjoyable listen.