Is your family like this? Recommended fiction if you have kids over 12
Why I choose this book
I don’t normally buy hardbacks, but I had a voucher nearing its expiry date and I happen to love David Nicholls’ writing. The paperback is out [date to come]
What it’s about
Douglas Petersen takes his wife and teenage son on a grand tour of Europe to try to (re) connect with them. He’s zipped up and old-fashioned. They’re arty and hip. It sounds dry, but a series of misadventures build to an adventure with a like-able busker who beds their boy.
What I liked
This book sticks. You feel as if you know the characters, as if the wife Connie is describing their holidays to you over a glass of wine and then you bump into Douglas on a train trip to Manchester and he tells you his side of the story. Poor Douglas, his dislike of glitter when his son is small (he has a point, it does get everywhere). His exasperation at the lack of structured play and by default thinking that defines his son’s childhood – far removed from the model airplanes and lined up soldiers of his own.
There he is with 17 year old Jake, divided from him not just by generation but by brain wiring. As separate from each other as a cat and a bird, yet living in the cage that encircles all families. Douglas recounts losing a baby girl before Jake was born. Prepare to cry. Nicholls describes the baby whose legs pedal in the air, and explores the pain of a father who loses a child and keeps his wife together as she loses her mind. Just as the character Douglas annoys you, you see him as an everyday hero surfacing out of a sh*t wall of grief, and you want to dive into the book and hold his hand and catch his tears as he remembers the days before his son.
What I disliked
David Nicholls tries to elevate what is first rate chick lit (up there with Jane Austen in my view) by telling the story of the family’s tour through the art works of the real grand tour, drawing in the oil paintings’ themes and shadows to allow the anally retentive Douglas to define the gulf between him and his cultured wife and visually savvy son. I asked the man in Waterstone’s why Us isn’t shelved as chick lit, but he said he had a problem with the term anyway. And, if you don’t want to lose yourself in the oil paintings and sculptures Nicholls describes, you can still enjoy the book with no knowledge of high art.
Should you buy it?
Definitely. It might be harder, though, if you have daughters. From what I’ve heard as a ‘boy Mum’, daughters can be more vocal in sharing their discontent where as this boy is sarcastic, rude, spoiled – but rarely direct in dealing with his Dad. You want to shake him, and sometimes his Mum when she takes his side against her husband’s.
But the whole book makes you think. Am I like that with my other half? With my sons? Where do my loyalties begin and end? You remember the characters and think about them. And, you might actually enjoy the art references in the book and look them up. Alas, I was too lazy/busy and I can still say that this tale stands up on its own.