I’ve never really related with male lead-characters before. Possibly unsurprisingly – I’m a 22 year old woman. But Douglas Petersen, a 50-something scientist, felt remarkably close to home in David Nicholls’ Us. A devastating story of loss, hope, love, frustration, and family, Us tackles a number of my biggest fears through several of my favourite European cities. I was captivated, at times immensely moved, at others laughing out loud, by what is yet another Nicholls gem.
Douglas Petersen loves his wife dearly – they are chalk and cheese, but he doesn’t care. She an artist, free-spirited; he a scientist, methodical and sensible. Their son Albie drives them both crazy, but Douglas finds the boy a mystery – could this grungy photographer who ignores every good piece of advice really be his? With a destructive revelation from his wife Connie, Douglas packs the family up on a last holiday before Albie goes to university.
What drew me into this book was not only the depth of character which Nicholls wrote into this family, highlighting many of my own fears of never understanding my own children, and being unable to express the intense feelings of love and protection I would have for them. Douglas is a sensible man, rational, given to practicality over emotion – I relate to his pragmatic nature, and feel his disappointment when his free-spirited and artistic wife and son misunderstand his every word. But Us covers a journey across Europe, split into sections pertaining to cities and countries, and gives a beautiful insight into the cultures and wonders of some of the most delightful holiday destinations. The holiday is secondary in this struggle to maintain some semblance of family connection, but the descriptions nevertheless are filled with knowledge, wisdom, and wanderlust that had me itching to get on a flight. The ability to make a reader desperate to jump into the pages is a real gift, and having been to a couple of the cities cited I felt transported back to those trips.
This book tackles insecurity, the frustration of not being understood, changing family dynamics, heartache, and maturity. It also allows you to travel the continent from your living room, taking pauses to explore and embrace the wonderful experiences that comes with inter-railing. Having read One Day and fallen in love with it, to being sadly disappointed by The Understudy, I’m so glad to have picked up Nicholls’ latest and found it bigger, better, and brighter than before.