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.
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.
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014