Book No 42 (2014) : Us

usMark Haddon was clearly on to something when he penned ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time‘. Since then, male characters with a seeming tendency towards Aspergers have become very popular. Boffins are all the rage. They have appeared in ‘The Rosie Project‘ (just followed by ‘The Rosie Effect’), ‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods‘ and now ‘Us’ by David Nicholls. It is Mr Nicholls’ fourth book and it made the Booker Long (but not Short)list.

The Petersens have been married a long time – they have one son, Albie, now a teenager. Douglas is a scientist, thinker in details, observer of minutiae and careful planner. Connie is an artist, impulsive, emotional and hands-off mother. Connie announces to Douglas that she intends to end their marriage, but nevertheless they set off with a less-than-enthusiastic son in tow, to explore Europe. Can a summer of familial Interrailing put Connie and Douglas’ relationship back on the map?

Douglas is an easy enough character to like, but the scenarios and conversations which derive their humour from someone with a two-dimensional take on life, are not that novel any more. There are laugh-out-loud moments, together with an insightful look into the tension which exists between parents and children, partners and lovers. I didn’t understand many of the references to museums, galleries, plazas and paintings; not knowing my Goya from my Gaudi hindered my ability to set a mental scene.

The big question which the author poses to the reader, is whether the extended holiday will save Douglas and Connie’s marriage. Shall I tell you?? No, as the pursuit of the answer is actually what kept me reading. Of course, if you are less patient than me you could read the first and last chapters. You wouldn’t miss a great deal and you’d still get the gist of the story, pretty much. Booker prize-winner? I don’t think so, and clearly the judges agreed with me!

Book No 31 (2014) : The Rosie Project

the rosie projectDr.Don Tillman likes to be organised. He has a tight schedule, orchestrated to the exact minute – it takes ‘three minutes, twenty seconds’ to have a shower, unless he washes in hair, ‘in which case it takes an extra minute and twelve seconds’. (The extra time is because he has to leave the conditioner on for sixty seconds). He operates a Standardised Meal Plan (Lobster on Tuesdays  – hence the cover pic) and changes to his routine flummox and unsettle him. As a geneticist, he finds scientific explanations reassuring and his literal interpretations of situations make life difficult for him, both at work and in his personal life. Despite his ordered existence, Don would like to be in a relationship and so he devises The Wife Project, a systematic approach to finding the perfect partner. Rosie doesn’t tick any of the right boxes, but she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Don’s dating programme results in a whole host of hilarious situations, as he tries to re-assess his priorities, address his social awkwardness and win Rosie’s hand.

There is a suggestion that Don might be an ‘Aspie’, (has Aspergers Syndrome), but the author readily admits that he didn’t carry out any research into autistic spectrum disorders at all. Don is quirky and Rosie is the perfect contrast.

This is a popular book at the moment and it’s easy to see why. It’s very, very funny – witty dialogue, slapstick situations. I read it as a Book Club choice and when we met to discuss it, we had just as much fun! We amused ourselves by firstly trying to cast the film using famous actors – we settled upon Colin Firth and Natalie Imbruglia as Don and Rosie. After a few more glasses of Prosecco, we had even more fun casting them using people we know. Cruel? Possibly. But if you know me, I bet you can’t help wondering whether I have you tagged as the next Don Tillman?!