Book review: Us by David Nicholls

I’ve been looking forward to reading this; I’ve been a huge fan of David Nicholls’s work since someone lent me a copy of One Day. Nicholls seems to have carved himself a niche that, on the surface, seems a little hard to define. The best I can come up with is that he writes about ordinary people who suddenly find their lives turned inside out by an extraordinary situation. Us is no exception. We are introduced to Douglas, a biochemist married to Connie, a bohemian free-spirit whom he suspects he doesn’t deserve (he is punching slightly above his weight), and his son Albie whom he has almost no connection with. After twenty-five years of marriage, Connie announces that when Albie leaves home for university, then she’ll be leaving Douglas too.

1433134101_thumb.jpegDouglas, being a scientist, deduces that the best way to save his marriage, and salvage any kind of relationship with his son, is to use a trip across Europe as a way to heal old wounds and forge new bonds. And so the reader accompanies the three of them across the continent, along with the uneasy feeling that none of this is going end well.

As always, it is an extremely well-written book. Nicholls crafts his prose concisely and with a certain terseness that flows easily from page to page. His characters are equally well-crafted, but having read a few of his books I’m starting to get the feeling that I’ve met them before. They’re all slightly detached and very sardonic. I do like this because it gives his dialogue a flat, dry wit, but I am starting to think that I’m reading about the same people in different situations.

The road-trip itself is funny and sad and extremely vivid. You do get a sense that you’re right there with them experiencing Douglas’s frustration; he seems to live behind a sheet of glass with his wife and son on the other side. At times though, I thought the exposition into art galleries and landmarks got a little too dense, a bit like reading a travel brochure, and I found that it detracted from the main story. As we headed towards the end, I think I became a little impatient with all the tourist paths; I really wanted to know things turned out. I know how important it is not to rush the ending of a good novel, but by the same token, you can stretch things out a little too far.

But overall, I really enjoyed Us, and would recommend it as a cracking good read, though I didn’t like it as much as One Day or Starter for Ten.

I’m going to give it a very respectable seven out of ten.

Recommendation: Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo

This isn’t really a book review, as I read Blonde Roots a few years ago and had cause to revisit it again recently for some background reading on slavery. I’d quite forgotten what a little gem this book is.

blonde_roots

It’s a kind of ‘alternate history’ novel that tells the story of a young girl taken from her home to work the plantations in a foreign land. But in a rather clever twist to history as we know it, Ms Evaristo has spun things around. In her world of the nineteenth century, it is the Africans who are kidnapping Europeans by the thousand and transporting them to work their farms and plantations.

Mind-blowing stuff.

The story is beautifully written and told without frills or compromise. After a while you forget that this isn’t the world as we know it, but still remain struck at the injustice and cruelty of the slave trade and how it demeans both the sufferers who endure it and the slavers who profit from it.

A great book which I’m glad to have rediscovered.