Do opposites really attract? “Us” defines the chasm between two completely different people who fall in love and get hitched…until one of them announces the desire for divorce.
British author David Nicholls is most popularly known for his bestselling novel “One Day,” which you probably remember as the Jim Sturgess-Anne Hathaway movie. Nicholls has a knack for writing wrenching prose, weaving his words so that they form vivid imagery and naturally evoke emotions. His words have the power to twist your heart, tug at your tear ducts, warm your soul, or trigger thigh-slapping laughter.
His novel “Us,” like “One Day,” is also a tragic love story, and Nicholls is obviously a master when it comes to matters of the heart. He has the capacity to dissect the highs and lows of love and life, the complexity of marriage, and the examination of one’s individuality in a permanent commitment.
The antihero is Douglas, a blubbering, endearing scientist in his ’50s whose wife is about to leave him. Penned in first-person narrative, Douglas speaks to us candidly how he and his artsy, bohemian wife Connie met, in short-but-sweet chapters. These chapters alternate between the present and the past.
Douglas is hilarious. A socially inept nerd who describes the world with scientific analogies. He and Connie have a son, Albie, who has inherited his mother’s intellect and artistic soul, and Douglas describes him with riotous humor and tenderness.
When Connie brutally announces that she wants to leave Douglas, a European tour has already been booked. So the family of three travel to Italy, Amsterdam, Paris, while Douglas grapples with his imminent divorce and forces to make his last trip with Connie and his difficult son a great memory.
Nicholls knows how to write very human, multidimensional characters that are richly detailed and consistent. And he writes about happiness, insecurity, fear, and pain so eloquently and powerfully that you find yourself easily and instantly swept away by Douglas’ thoughts and feelings.
There is a great deal of pleasure to derive from the author’s simple and affecting words. They are earnest and poetic, hilarious and sad, without a hint of pretension. But the pleasure somewhat ends in Nicholl’s mastery of writing and storytelling. The tale itself is unpleasant.
There is beauty in melancholy books, but Douglas, no matter how funny and interesting he is, is simply pathetic. It would have been welcome if this is pure parody. But “Us” is first and foremost a drama. And seeing how Douglas is such a willing victim makes you gradually lose respect for him.
Here you find yourself loathing his wife and his son, and that is okay because it exhibits Nicholls’ effective characterizations. But you just cannot root for a protagonist who has no self-respect. And the ending somehow ruins everything with its pure convenience. That cliche commonly found in love stories: when life closes a door, it opens a window. Or, sometimes, in life, the best is yet to come.
In the end, the novel, glorious at first for beautifully painting a convincing reality ends up a not-so-original fairy tale after all. Still worth the read, though, for being brilliantly written.
3.5 out of 5 stars