Us, by David Nicholls

Douglas is married to Connie, and they have one son Albie. One night, Connie anounces to Douglas that she thinks they should separate - which comes as a complete shock to him. Rather than cancel it, they decide to go ahead with the previously booked family holiday: a grand tour of Europe, taking in all the famous artistic sights.

I'd had a hard-copy of this on my bedside table pretty much since the book was published in 2014, but I'd not read it - partly because I was "saving it", and partly because I had the impression that it hadn't been fantastically well received and I suppose I was worried about being disappointed after enjoying One Day so much.

But in conversation at the Christmas party, Denise mentioned that she'd read it and hadn't liked it at all, which reminded me of it; then it came up for 99p on Kindle which I didn't feel too bad about (given that I'd already got the hardback) and so I was ready to read it.

And it was brilliant! Not much like One Day, and I can see why fans of that book might not take to this one, but I really enjoyed it and got through it in two days.

The book it reminded me of quite a lot was Therapy: like that book, it's written in the first person by a middle-aged man who's somewhat bewildered with the way that life has treated him - the beginning of this book, where Connie announces her intention to leave Douglas, mirrors an episode in Therapy. And this book is very funny - made me laugh a lot - as well as being a bit sad. And both books feature some kind of european trek.

The book alternates between the "present" day, with the events of the European trip, and the story of how Douglas and Connie got together. When they met, Connie had accumulated a fairly colourful past: she was a budding artist and had led a fairly bohemian existence (at least it appeared that way to Douglas) and had accumulated a fair number of sexual partners on the way. Douglas is pretty staid in comparison, and struggles to understand what it is that Connie sees in him (the reader also wonders this) and I don't think this question is really satisfactorily answered in the whole book, but I think this has the ring of truth, because there are cases where one partner can't believe their luck, despite being reassured by the other that they really are the one for them.

You can see how Connie gets increasingly frustrated with Douglas, and how Douglas, despite being aware of how fussy he must seem, cannot help himself and is a prisoner of his own obsessions. When they're planning their trip, and trying to get excited about the family holiday:

'...Rome is beautiful. Stop off at Herculaneum and Pompeii and finish up in Naples. Of course, in an ideal world we'd jump back and to the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, then Berlin, but we'll have to see how your father's holding up.'
I was emptying the dishwasher and confess to being distracted by the low level of rinse aid as well as the ruinous cost of all this travel.

So it's hard not to share Connnie's frustration but also hard not to sympathise with Douglas because it's so easy to imagine being in his position and behaving like he does (or perhaps it's just me - I certainly think this is one of those books that you might hesitate to recommend to people in case it reveals too much about yourself).

I can understand why Denise might not have liked it - she said, IIRC, that it was depressing to read about someone's failed attempt to save their marriage while traipsing around Europe - but I thought the book worked really well and I look forward to reading it again.

Some quotes (this isn't all the stuff I highlighted though):

'It's not about the house. It's the idea of you and me in each other's pockets forever more. It's like ... a Beckett play.'
I'd not seen a Beckett play, but presumed this was a bad thing.'
'I'd always been under the impression that we were together because we wanted to be together, and because we were happy most of the time. I'd thought that we loved each other. I'd thought ... clearly I was mistaken, but I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.'
Connie turned to me, her head on the pillow, and said, 'Douglas, why would anyone in their right mind look forward to that?'
When I first arrived at university I attended a fancy-dress screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with the aforementioned Liza Godwin, which remains one of the most wearying evenings of enforced wackiness that I have ever writhed through in my life. The things I did for love! I am not a religious man but I vividly remember sitting in my seat wearing a pair of Liza Godwin's torn tights, with a lipsticked rictus grin on my face, praying, please, God, if you do exist, let me not do 'The Time Warp' again.
And I do read a great deal of non-fiction, which has always seemed to me a better use of words than the made-up conversations of people who have never existed.
Why do the youth of other cities always seem so attractive? Did the Dutch walk the streets of Guildford or Basingstoke and think, my God, just look at those people?
When they're booked into a "boutique" hotel in Amsterdam, which has various kinky pictures on the walls:
'Douglas,' said Connie, tapping the print of the bound Japanese lady, 'is that a half hitch or a bowline?'
I did not answer, though it was a bowline.

One thing I noted was that from Douglas' point of view, it seems like his life is in a bit of a muddle, and he's just a collection of worries, uncertainties and anxieties about what the right thing is to do, whereas Connie seems to be so much more together and just does the right thing instinctively, with no obvious inner turmoil. And while Douglas agonises over things he's done and worries about whether he's done "the wrong thing", it doesn't occur to him that anyone else has this problem at all (and so far as we can see, given it's Douglas who's narrating the book, no one else does seem to have any issues like this).

Completed : 01-January-2017 (audiobook)

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