My November read was the Booker nominated 'Us' by David Nicholls, pictured above. I had high hopes for this novel, having enjoyed 'One Day' a lot. Reviews were good and the subject matter appealed to me as he was writing about the marriage a couple in their 50's with one teenage child. Now I am not so narrow in my reading habits to simply want to read about people like me but, even so, the similarity to my own family situation did appeal. I'd expected, and hoped for, a book which explored the complexity of a long term relationship from both sides. Unfortunately I was disappointed, as it really doesn't do this at all.
'Us' is written from the perspective of Douglas Petersen whose wife announces in that she thinks their marriage has run its course and she intends to leave him when their son goes off to university. He desperately wants to keep her and plans a long road trip to Europe for the family, a kind of Grand Tour, visiting key works of art in major cities, in the hope of saving their marriage. Douglas is socially awkward and introverted whereas Connie is his opposite: attractive, amusing and extrovert, only marrying him in the first place because she needed more stability than her previous partner had offered. Douglas also feels a little jealous of his wife's close relationship with their son, Albie. He has a rather troubled relationship with his son and the book is as much about this as it is about the marriage. Douglas tries hard as a parent, advising his son and doing the things he thinks he ought to do such as forcing him to eat his greens, doing his maths homework with him and encouraging him build Lego according to the instructions. He doesn't understand his son's distress when he 'helps' by gluing the completed Lego models together. Albie turns out to be more a of free spirit with artistic leanings like his mother and he falls out spectacularly with his father during the trip, going off travelling with a girl he met busking. Much of the book tells of Douglas's attempt to find his son and bring him home.
It was all very readable and you cannot help but sympathise for poor Douglas. I was reminded a little of Harold Fry from Rachel Joyce's book. My problem with it was that I expected something different. As a portrait of a marriage in crisis it failed: it was too one-sided. We don't get to know Connie at all: she seems too perfect and all the 'blame' for the relationship breakdown is heaped on Douglas. There are much better portrayals of long term relationships in crisis in Ian McEwan's novels. Both 'Enduring Love' and 'The Child in Time' do this well. Also it just didn't ring true - Douglas and Connie are just too nice too each other when breaking up. From what I have seen in observing friends and acquaintances going through divorce, it's rarely 'amicable'.
So for my last book of the year, I'm avoiding the best seller list and going for a book lots of people have recommended, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving. I hope it's good as recent books I have chosen have failed to meet my expectations.