‘I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’
‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’”
This quote convinced me to pick up Us by David Nicholls. Maybe I’m a bit cookey, maybe it’s not going to persuade anyone else, but I think you can see from this quote how this book won’t be as anything else you’ve read.
Telling the story of the docile, mild-mannered scientist Douglas and his beautiful, creative, artistic wife Connie, Us is a journey through Europe, though the lives of two people who are as different as they can be from each other.
What started out as a completely different perspective (a middle-aged man) for me, ended up as a touching and heart warming story that I empathised with.
This is the story of a marriage in shambles, but it’s also a great tale of the modern man, who can’t seem to find his feet in his own family, becoming detached from it in spite of his best efforts to connect.
Douglas’s relationship with his son Albie seemed to represent lots of father-son/daughter relationships I’ve known. Douglas has the best intentions and he wants everything for his son. He wants Albie to be happy, for him to make the right choices in life, for Albie to have everything Douglas didn’t.
However, he’s disconnected from reality and from the person his son has become. It was gut wrenching to hear about the physical separation between the two, from wrestling to hand holding to no affection at all. When there isn’t a natural comfortable feeling between fathers and children, how can a relationship be healthy?
In my mind, this particular aspect of the book sparked lots of feminist points. What are we teaching our boys that they become so detached from reality and unable to form a healthy relationship with their children? Masculinity is much too commonly defined as being the provider, the teacher, the enforcer. All these roles men take over when they become fathers make them alienate themselves from their families. Expressing your love for your child is seen as unnatural, emasculating and something that should always be implied, but not actually said.
Communication is so skewed by preconceptions and fear of expressing anything that’s not in line with stereotypes.
In my opinion, you can see all of this in Douglas, especially because you get an understanding of his background, his own family and how he was raised. You can a complete picture of him as a character and that’s such a lovely realisation to come to at the end. I was at peace with the story (and I would have been no matter the ending) because I felt I saw Douglas grow and change throughout his journey.
I also felt I was on a trip alongside the main characters, getting to know them more and more through their action in the present and the stories told from the past.
Rating: | I loved it!