US, by David Nicholls, could also be called THE GRAND TOUR. That is actually the title he gives Book One of the novel.
The first page of US jump-starts this witty novel of marriage and parenthood. Douglas’s wife of twenty years wakes him in the night. He thinks she’s telling him there is a burglar in the house, but, no, she is telling him she is leaving him! This scene shows the comic/tragic setting this story will take from the get-go.
David Nicholls is an English novelist. And this novel begins in England at the home of Douglas and Connie Petersen, and their son, Albie, or as they affectionately call him. Egg. Douglas seems to have been living in his own world as he had no idea Connie was so miserable in their marriage. And now that Albie is graduating from high school, Douglas imagines a huge void where his life has been.
Told in 179 snippets, Nicholls manages to take us through the marriage and relationship highs and lows of Douglas and Connie’s lives. Nicholls creates a tragic comedy that totally captures his audience. He delves deeply into the mind and heart of his main character while still allowing us to hear the voices of Connie and Albie.
Connie and Douglas have the summer already planned. And Connie tells Douglas that she plans on staying on through the trip, and possibly until the first of the year. They are taking dear Albie on The Grand Tour. In this case it’s not quite how it was done back in the day. Instead of sending Albie backpacking with friends through Europe, Connie and Douglas are accompanying Albie… We find that Albie would much rather be spending his summer traveling with his friends instead of his struggling mother and father. And we discover quickly that Albie and his father are and have been at odds about every single thing on this earth for seemingly ever. Teenage angst. Relationship breakdown. Total disarray. And a man who is determined to try to keep his family together against all odds. That is what we have here.
The many stops on this Grand Tour are detailed to give a great sense of place. In fact, you can tell Nicholls has done his research well. Scenes in Venice and Paris and Amsterdam are stellar. Many bring back memories. You will certainly feel yourself transported to each destination. The train leaves London bound for Paris, that to get started. And the scenes in Paris at the Hotel Bontemps in the 7th arrondissement, room 602, will have you laughing out loud. How many of us have unknowingly booked a hotel in Europe online, sight unseen, only to find it let’s just say, not quite up to par? And Paris is where Albie meets up with a sexy accordionist from New Zealand.From Paris the disjointed family moves on to Amsterdam. You can only imagine the antics about to occur here. Then on to Munich. By the time the story arrives in Venice we find that this is the city where Douglas proposed to Connie. And it is also the most mapped out city in the story. I did feel the atmosphere in St. Mark’s square. And I was right there sipping espresso at the corner cafe. But by the time Venice is in the picture the dynamic of the novel has changed drastically. Thinking I could see where the story was going, I found myself surprised when it turned a surprise corner.
There are scenes in this book that will have you in stitches. Douglas gets himself tangled up with a group of jellyfish while swimming off the coast of a Barcelona beach. He scorches his eyeball while sipping soup in a Vietnamese restaurant early in the novel. These scenes which could have been so slap-stick, are written brilliantly. And bring a much needed lightness to what could have been awkward moments to say the least.
The chapters are neat and short. They go back and forth in time to reflect before and after Douglas and Connie were married. They give us an ornate idea of who both these people were before they found each other. Talk about opposites attracting… Connie was into art and drugs and booze. Douglas was into science, big time. When Albie came along after Doug and Connie had lost a baby girl, everything changed. Parenting changes a marriage. And two people do not necessarily see eye to eye on the raising of their offspring. Douglas doesn’t ever seem to be able to transfer his love to his son. And Albie grows up with more than a little chip on his shoulder. The harder Douglas tries to get close to Albie the worse it all gets.
US, by David Nicholls, tackles marriage, parenthood, travel, art and science. US is David Nicholl’s fourth novel, and it was recently longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Yes, it’s that good!
My review copy came from the generous people at Harper Collins Publishers. Thanks so much! I loved it!