Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Fiction Review: Us

Although I’d never heard of author David Nicholls before, I recently watched the movie adaptation of his first novel, One Day. So, when I started hearing rave reviews of his latest novel, Us, I requested the audio book for review. I absolutely loved this poignant and hilarious book! It is one of my favorite audio books listened to in several years.

Douglas is the first-person narrator of this novel about marriage and family. He’s in his 50’s and has been happily married to his wife, Connie, for 25 years. He’s a biochemist, and Connie is an artist, and they have a sullen teen son named Albie. One day, seemingly out of the blue, Connie announces that she thinks their marriage has run its course and she is considering leaving. Though Connie is somewhat matter-of-fact about this pronouncement, Douglas is completely knocked for a loop and never saw it coming.

They have plans to embark on a big family vacation this summer, a trip to the great sights of Europe that they have nicknamed The Grand Tour. Connie insists they can still go ahead with their trip, and Douglas secretly hopes it will be a chance to rekindle their romance and win her back. In the midst of all this turmoil is the moody Albie, whose relationship with his father is distant and angry. So, they head out on The Grand Tour! What could go wrong?

The novel moves back and forth between the present, traveling across Europe, and the past, as Douglas thinks back to the start of their romance and how they first met and fell in love and married. The flashbacks show how their relationship began, while the present scenes demonstrate what has gone wrong between them.

If a story about a marriage falling apart sounds horrible and depressing, you need to know that this novel is also very, very funny. Douglas has a wonderfully dry sense of humor (and, often, the humor is in things he doesn’t realize are funny), and that humor moves the story along at a fast pace and keeps it compelling. It’s also just plain intriguing to trace the entire course of a 25-year relationship to see how things began and what went wrong.

I imagine the written novel is good, but the audio book is wonderful! Reader David Haig completely becomes Douglas, and it feels like you are listening to the real Douglas tell his story. The trip across Europe is interesting in its own right, and there is a good deal of suspense, as you wait to find out whether Douglas and Connie will stay together or not. Douglas’ broken relationship with his teen son is also spotlighted, and I was rooting for them to mend things, regardless of what happened with Connie. Having celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary this fall and having two teen/young adult sons breaking away from us and finding their own identities made this novel even more poignant to me.

Us is a story of love, marriage, and family, and it feels completely real. It is sad and moving, occasionally even heart-breaking, but it is also heart-warming, hopeful, and very funny. I’m sure my family thought I was crazy, as I frequently laughed out loud while making dinner! This is a wonderful novel, warm and genuine, and absolutely riveting on audio. I felt like Douglas was a good friend by the end. Highly recommended.

Harper Audio

(NOTE: Us was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in the UK).

You can listen to an audio sample at the following Amazon link:


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