Mark 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!