Review of “Us” by David Nicholls

This is a difficult book for me to review, because there are basically only four characters in the book, and I absolutely could not stand three of them. It was actually painful for me to read it, just because I didn’t like them so much. But that has no bearing on whether or not the book is well-written or tells a good story, and in fact, many reviewers have loved this book.

FINAL Us cover image

The story is narrated by Douglas Petersen, 54, whose wife of 20 years, Connie, tells him at the beginning of this book “I think our marriage has run its course. I think I want to leave you.” But their only child, a 17-year-old son named Albie, is about to go off to college, and they have already planned a “Grand Tour” of Europe for the three of them before Albie leaves in the fall. They decide to go through with it, “for Albie’s sake.”

Alternating with Douglas’s account of what happened on this trip, he goes back in time to chart the course of his marriage to Connie. Granted, this is just his point of view, and I suppose if this book were by Gillian Flynn we might get a book in two halves with Connie’s perspective represented. But not hearing her take on the marriage except from Douglas’s eyes, I grew to detest Connie, Albie, and Kat, the girl Albie picks up mid-trip in Europe. Moreover, I can’t imagine what kept Douglas and Connie together for even a moment, not to mention twenty years, except that Douglas seemed overwhelmed by Connie’s looks, and – as a science geek without much experience with women – he idolized her and felt lucky to be the object of her attention. Or derision and contempt, depending on how you see it. Albie’s behavior was [also] execrable, and Connie’s endorsement of it irresponsible and cruel. And Kat actually made Albie look good by comparison. While I liked Douglas more than the others, his constant bowing and scraping to these cruel and boorish people led to a diminution of my respect for him.

Many reviewers have found Douglas “lovable” and “humorously self-deprecating.” I just had to shake my head.

Evaluation: I disliked this book, but it was very much tied to my loathing of the characters. If you don’t mind dysfunctional families and non-likable protagonists, you will appreciate this story much more than I. It made the Man Booker 2014 Longlist.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014


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10 Responses to Review of “Us” by David Nicholls

  1. Your review actually makes me feel better because I started this one and put it down. I didn’t even get far enough to figure out if I liked the characters. I just thought it was kind of blah, which surprised me because I loved Nicholls’ One Day.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I wasn’t wowed by his last book so haven’t been anxious to pick this up even though I’ve read a lot of those raving reviews. I have a feeling I’ll agree with you.

  3. stacybuckeye says:

    I don’t think I could feel much sympathy for a character who takes so much crap from the people he loves. Probably not the one for me.

  4. Belle Wong says:

    No, this one isn’t for me. I don’t mind one unlikable character in a book but three is a lot.

  5. Beth F says:

    I just haven’t mustered up the enthusiasm to read this. The premise is not that appealing.

  6. sandynawrot says:

    I loved One Day, even though there were likability issues there too. But honestly this sounds horrid. I like how Nicholls writes…very clever and British-witted. But I don’t need boorish assholes in my pleasure reading.

  7. Trish says:

    Bleh. I loathed all of the characters in One Day…so guessing I’ll skip this one, too.

  8. The David Nicholls book I read a while ago, I felt exactly this same way about. I hated both of the two characters in One Day, and it made it impossible for me to like the book.

  9. Beth F says:

    I’m here to change my mind. I LOVED this audiobook. I mean LOVED. And thought the book was funny, sad, and very true. I don’t really have to *like* the characters — I just need to care what happens. I cared.

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