Us by David Nicholls
David Nicholls’s latest novel deals in a similar brand of situation and relationship comedy as his past novels (the bestselling One Day, and the earlier Starter for Ten and The Understudy), however where these previous books tended towards the generic or light, Us offers readers something far more substantial. That is, it connects with some universal dilemmas we all face in our relationships: How do we truly relate to those we love? How do we keep love going? What is the most we can expect? And is it the journey that matters or simply how it ends?
The narrative follows a small family – Douglas and Connie and their 17-year-old son, Albie – on a Grand Tour around Europe. The idea is that Douglas and Connie want to give Albie, an aspiring artist, a ‘real’ education, the kind sought out by young men of the nineteenth century, before he goes off to university. At least this is the idea, before Connie tells Douglas that she intends to leave him as soon as they get back. Predictably, the family trip does not quite go to plan, though this is not to say that Nicholls’s narrative unfolds in a predictable way. Douglas, a biochemist, might be ridiculous if not for his sincerity, and I might say the same about Connie, an artist, who is nearly a caricature, but also so much more. Nicholls manages to make his somewhat stereotypical characters feel real, fully realised and relatable, retrieving this otherwise standard odd-couple-journeying story and turning it into something with edges, darkness and genuine emotion.
Us is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming, and as sad as it is funny, balancing light-hearted humour and profundity with grace. Ultimately, Nicholls is a writer of such talent as to make you, by turns, laugh out loud and question the meaning of life, love, youthfulness and ageing, and the relationships we collect along the way.
Amy Vuleta is the Assistant Manager at Readings St Kilda.