Six months since my last post and 4 months since I finished a book.
What have changed?
- WordPress revamped all its features and gave me a dumb-down version of writing a post. I am not accustomed to it because I can’t seem to find my normal widgets and settings.
- I discovered that there are still people who read my work and added me on their reading list, not many but there is still people out there. All is not lost for the five years I toiled to build content to the blog (thank you!).
- I found out that I miss the solace and escapism a book can offer. Part of the reason I was pulled down by the miserable weather and everything that is going on at work was because I didn’t read enough. Not reading or learning anything inspiring to chase away the blues.
- My house stays cleaner because I always spend time cleaning it and I get a lot of work done at work but it doesn’t give me the same satisfaction of reading and reviewing a book.
- Kindle has become so indispensable because the only time I can get any reading done is when I am on the train, in the tube, reading with one hand.
- I missed mentioning my 6th anniversary of my blog last Nov 2014 although the recent year I have been inactive.
I read some good books from last Sept – Nov last year and I want to talk about some of them in depth but not sure when I will get around doing this.
So I decided that let’s talk about “Us” because I just finished it today, and if I have any issue with Us, I think we should air it out now. 😉
Us is a must read book for all of us who lives in the UK because David Nicholls’ books are so popular that every one of them was made into a movie and so I heard the same from this one.
This one is close to my heart because it is set in somewhere in a village near Reading. Compared to One Day, this one feels more mature, with more depth, grounded and melancholic, without losing the humour.
Douglas Petersen described himself as inconspicuous and lacks the attractive feature that draws a second look from any passers-by. A bio-chemist by profession, Douglas wants what is normal, routine and believes in being methodological, hard work and discipline. Above all he loves his family. Connie, is the opposite. Unkempt, sweet wrappers on the floor, liberal and laissez faire, is an artist. On a rebound from a bad relationship with Angelo, Connie thinks the stable and secure Douglas is what she needs.
So one night after 18 years of marriage, when his wife Connie (Moore) woke him up at night and told him that she is thinking of leaving him. Douglas’s mind went into disarray. He is confused and he looked for an answer and asked himself for a thousand times “Why???”
Albie, their only son, is going to university and about to leave home. So Douglas, Connie and their teenage son Albie embarked on a Europe trip by train, visiting the major cities of Europe – Paris, Amsterdam, Venice and so on. This could be the last trip for the family. Things were all planned until an incident happened in the middle of the trip and things went a little haywire as Douglas went out of the course of the trip, into his own adventure and as a result reached a profound realisation about his life at the end of the journey.
Using similar techniques as One Day, the chapters alternate between the present (the Europe trip) and the past (the memory of courtship, birth, tribulations of Douglas and Connie’s marriage). With each past memory provide the context and reflection of the present. I thought this writing technique is simply brilliant. We see the cause and effect of the couple’s behaviours in the marriage to the consequence of disharmony of the family in the trip. We, the reader, understood why Douglas and Connie felt the way that they do, and why Albie felt misunderstood by his father. It is a theme of love, time and marriage, but also the awkward and complex relationship between the father and son.
As I read it from Guardian that it is pointed out to me that whilst One Day was about two people who should be together but, for the most part, don’t realise it; Us is kind of the opposite. i.e. about two people who shouldn’t be together, but realised it late in the marriage. For me, this is more sad.
Needless to say I relate and agree to Douglas point of view:
“My sister, with her much vaunted ‘big personality’, liked to surround herself with extremely ‘cool’ people, but coolness and kindness rarely go together and the fact that these people were often truly appalling, cruel, pretentious or idiotic was, to my sister, a small price to pay for their reflected glamour.”
“The problem with telling people that they can do anything they want to do is that it is objectively, factually inaccurate. Otherwise the whole world would just be ballet dancers and pop stars.”
“But why couldn’t they recognise my reservation for what it was; not narrow-mindedness, not conservatism or caution but care, a huge amount of care, an ocean of it. I disapproved because I cared. Why wasn’t that apparent?”
Five years of commuting against the tide had begun to take their toll, and I was perpetually tired, perpetually stressed and bad-tempered, so that my nightly home coming brought no pleasure to either Albie or Connie, or indeed myself. (loc 4471)
‘Forbidding it will just make it more appealing.’ This was a notion that I found alien. When my father forbade something, it became forbidden, not appealing. (loc 4777)
I relate to his exhaustion of commuting back and forth from London and Reading, I gave an air punch when few months ago I said the same thing to my almost 10-year-old son “How can you not do long division, Albie? It’s pretty basic stuff.” (location 4706). Yes, the future is terrifying, if I don’t prepare my sons for it, how would he survive? I do not believe in liberal parenting like Connie does, I believe parents are there to shape and guide, to groom and nurture. So naturally I found Connie selfish, in every way, to take Douglas as a safe harbour but not wanting to spend the rest of her life with him.
I knew the story wasn’t going to end in happily ever after but it was painful to watch and even more painful to realise that sometimes when you give everything you have got, you don’t necessarily succeed. The painful thing is for Douglas to remain friends with Connie and have her find her true love while friends ooohh and awww on “what a lovely story, how romantic,” and meanwhile all those intervening years, all that we went through together, our marriage, is contained within parentheses….. and this made me both happy and sad, because while it was pleasing to see her come back to life, it was harsh to be revealed as the encumbrance to her spirits” – Douglas
They say marry the one you love and love the one you marry. Lucky is the one who had both and overcome the challenge of sustainable love but what falls within our own control is to “Love the one you marry”. There may come a time when two people are not meant to be together. When it happens, let it go and find your happiness, again.
Verdict: In my opinion, this is a better David Nicholls’ book than One Day.
Kindle. Publisher: Hodder & Stoughon Sept 2014, originally published in 1997; Length: 416 pages; Setting: Reading and Europe cities, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Siena, Madrid Source: Own copy. Finished reading on: 1st April 2015.
David Alan Nicholls is an English novelist and screenwriter. Author of wildly successful novels and scripts for the stage, television and movies. His novels include Starter for Ten (2003), The Understudy (2005), One Day (2009), and Us (2014).