Us – David Nicholls

This was, for me, a rebound book. A book to fill a gap after finishing one that you have been really immersed in. I had just finished Coffin Road and was wondering what to start next when this was passed to me by a friend. Perfect timing! It looked to be just what was required, not demanding, a fairly easy read but enough to keep me interested. I was not a fan of One Day by the same author, finding it too contrived, ¬†however I didn’t let this put me off. I am glad I didn’t as this book did it’s job more than adequately and did in fact exceed my expectations. It tells the story of Douglas and Connie, a couple who after 20 years seem to be coming to the end of their marriage. They are going to take one last holiday with their nearly adult son which Connie feels will be an ending to their marriage but Douglas hopes will save it. The story is told by Douglas who revisits their entire relationship as well as describing their current holiday. Their trip is a grand tour of Europe so this also allows for some interesting descriptions of art which is an added bonus. Douglas is a very real and likeable character, genuinely bemused about how they have got to this point. His contemplations on his family life are at times full of humor, at others poignant. He captures the many complicated dynamics that can exist within any relationship and within a family. The holiday does not really meet anyone’s expectations, in the way that family holidays often don’t, but through various twists and turns it does allow all three characters an opportunity to reflect on who they are and what they hope for from life. The ending was realistic and satisfying. Overall this was a good read and the details about the grand tour of Europe’s art galleries left me inspired to take such a trip too!

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Have the men had enough? – Margaret Forster

Margaret Forster has a unique ability to tell the stories of everyday family life, of love and loss, heartbreaks and hopes, to describe the everyday events of real life in a way that makes you feel like you know the characters, that you could even be some of these characters and that you have felt or could feel exactly as they do. She captures people and the essence of relationships so beautifully and realistically it’s like picking up with old friends but being allowed to have a really good nosy through their lives! In this book Forster sensitively addresses the issue of dementia and a families varying response to it. The main character Grandma is gradually becoming more confused and it is becoming clear that she will not be able to live independently for much longer, the question of what to do with her is very much at the heart of the story but each member of the family has their own opinion fed by their own experiences, personality and relationship with Grandma. Thanks to Forster’s compassionate writing it is easy to understand each perspective and feel empathy even with the views we might not agree with. The story is narrated in turn by Grandma’s daughter in law and granddaughter which provides different but equally touching insights into what it is like to love someone with dementia. This is ultimately a story of family life at a time of crises, ¬†there is often humour, sadness, anger and frustration but overwhelmingly a sense of the complex reality of day to day living and loving in a family. A beautifully written, warm, moving and engaging good read that will stay with you for a long time after closing it’s pages for the last time.