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The novel “Us” by David Nicholls is the story of a marriage in trouble and an unsentimental look at a family in crisis. It is narrated by the husband, Douglas Petersen, a biochemist in his early 50s
and a man ruled by scientific reason and logic.
Douglas is married to Connie, an artist-turned-arts-administrator. They have one child, Alfie, who grows up to be a free-spirited soul like his mother.
He wants to take photography classes and is not drawn to his father’s scientific interests at all. Douglas is practical and wants Alfie to study something that will support him. Connie just wants Alfie to be happy, and so Alfie becomes a source of constant conflict between his parents.
At the beginning of this novel, Connie awakens Douglas to tell him she is considering leaving him and that she wants to rediscover herself without him, but that she still loves him. Douglas cannot
envision a life without her. If she still loves him, why would she want to leave?
Douglas insists that the family stick to an earlier planned grand tour of Europe, where Douglas hopes he can win his family back – especially because their son
will be leaving for art school to study photography. The Petersens travel through France to Belgium and the Netherlands and on to Italy and Amsterdam, before arriving in Madrid and Barcelona, where there are some climactic scenes.
The author’s description of how Douglas tries to win back his wife’s love is very moving. And Douglas’ perspective on his relationship with his rebellious teenage son provides some heartbreaking moments. This novel explores the feelings of regret Douglas has as a father. It also demonstrates how families and relationships really work. Mr. Nicholls tackles mature issues of a marriage and explores the regrets Douglas feels as he acknowledges the mistakes he made.
“Us” was longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize for fiction.