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 36 (2014) : We are All Completely Beside Ourselves

beside ourselvesUsually I wait a couple of days after finishing a book before writing my blog, so that I can mull over what I have read and see what my lasting impressions are. I turned the last page of the Karen Joy Fowler’s Booker longlisted novel ‘We are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ about 3 days ago. Now all I seem to be able to remember is that it has a bright yellow cover! There must be more, there must be more – this is a book whose main text is preceded by no fewer than 42 rave reviews, spread over 5 pages. There must be more to it than yellow!

Rosemary is at University and tells her story by moving between her current student life and flashbacks to her childhood. Raised in a highly academic family (her father was a professor and researcher), Rosemary is haunted by the sudden disappearance of both her siblings; Fern, a sister, vanished when Rosemary was 5 years old and their brother, Lowell, 6 years later. The emergence of the truth about where Fern went and what happened to her subsequently, together with the sudden re-appearance of Lowell, cause Rosemary’s past and present to collide.

The book tackles some highly emotive and also divisive moral issues, but the novel seemed to me to be unhelpful in persuading the reader to one view or another – in that sense, it lacked depth. It was also clumsy in the way the key scientific theories were explained e.g. by means of a lecture delivered by one of Rosemary’s professors or explanations of her father’s methods. My over-riding feeling was that the book couldn’t quite make up its mind what it was – too theoretical to be an imaginative tale, too lacking in plot to be a page-turning read.

I will be watching with interest to see how this work fares in the Booker Prize awards. Judging by the number of plaudits, its got to be a front-runner. As for me, unfortunately I am not Completely Beside Myself with excitement about it!