My Dad bought me this book, during a Sunday afternoon slowly walking through bookshops, and I’m pretty grateful, as it’s probably not a book I would have picked up on my accord. And I say that, despite having read David Nicholls’ previous book One Day (didn’t everyone?) which stands as one of the books that’s made me cry the most in my life (the film being even worse, I actively remember me and my friend going to see it, the film ending and us both literally bawling).
The book follows the story of Douglas, who is woken up in the middle of the night by his wife of nearly 25 years, Connie, who says she wants to leave him – “. She says she won’t leave him until they have completed their Grand Tour, which they’re due to go on with their son Albie before he leaves home to go to University. Connie and Douglas are completely opposite types, she’s an artist and he’s a biochemist. They meet when she’s off her face, and he’s desperately trying to leave a party. As Mark Lawson wrote; “whereas One Day mismatched a serious-minded woman with a hedonistic and libidinous man, Us reverses the polarities.” Despite this, Douglas clearly adores his wife and can’t conceive of life without her. Douglas decides that he will use the Grand Tour as his chance to win back his wife.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen of the book is that it’s relatively unrealistic. But although this is vaguely true (I’m not sure many married couples on the brink of divorce would actually decide to go on a long holiday together, pre-booked and organised or not) and sure, some of the events which occur on the way are relatively unrealistic too. But at the same time, it’s never too unrealistic. It could happen. It probably wouldn’t, but it could. And that’s good enough for me. Stories, at the end of the day, don’t always have to be completely realistic.
I found myself really relating to Douglas throughout the book, even though he is a married biochemist in his fifties and I’m a very much single comms girl in her twenties. He’s sensible and in contrast to his wife he’s predictable and not very spontaneous, which is a state of life I can very much relate to. Not only that, but his son is very much his wife’s kid, and he often tries to fit into their arty world, but always finds himself on the edge, not quite able to connect. I am sure there are many people who would read that and could relate in some way, to a moment in their lives when they just felt they couldn’t get into the same bubble as those around them.
I felt endlessly sorry for Douglas. It was so obvious that he’d constantly try his best to make sure his family had good lives, but all of his attempts are met with bullshit back from his son and his wife. How could they not see how hard he was trying? How could they not see how much he loved and adored them both? Why would Connie never stand up for him? Why was Albie allowed to get away with so much shit? My parents would have killed me if I’d behaved in any way close to how he behaved. It sometimes becomes slightly distressing to see someone working so hard, and getting shot down at every moment, so full of hope, yet completely shat on at every opportunity.
The book doesn’t use traditional chapters, instead it’s split up into numbered mini-chapters, which make it easy to read and keep the pace going. They all have slightly odd names, all of which are explained within that paragraph. The book flits in and out of the present and explaining the history between Douglas and Connie, but it never feels disjointed or difficult to read.
The book (in cliché fashion) made me laugh and made me cry and at one point it completely took the wind out of sales. I read it all within the space of two days, and when it finished I was gutted. It was one of those books that I wanted to know more about, and wanted to know what had happened to the characters later on. If you get chance to read this book, take it, I can recommend it whole heartedly.