This is the story of Douglas, a 50 something year old scientist, who attempts to salvage his marriage and his relationship with his teenage son on a trip around Europe looking at stuff in art galleries. Yes, I know, it sounds like the kind of book that would be filled with either:
a) sentimental pap
b) talkshow style angst
c) Poncey descriptions of old paintings
But based on the strength of Nicholls’ ‘One Day’ which was brilliant, I gave it a go. And I am so glad I did. Nicholls saves the book from all of the above, purely by creating such a believable and (generally) likeable character in Douglas. He is a scientist, so he is very logical, straightforward, slightly awkward and not given over to sentimental pap or talkshow angst. Ok, there are some poncey descriptions of old paintings, but Nicholls uses them to demonstrate the essential differences between Douglas (whose scientific brain doesn’t really understand them) and his artistic wife and son (who do).
He spends plenty of time talking about the past as well as the present – so you come to understand exactly how and why he has reached this place in his life and why he does what he does throughout the story. The book reads like you are just sitting down having a chat with him, and by the end of it, seriously, you feel like you know him so well, you want to give him a ring to check he’s doing ok.
It is beautifully written. It made me laugh, it made me cry. Like ‘One Day’ it spans several decades, which is quite sobering, as it makes your own life seem much shorter and more precious. Read it.
Author: David Nicholls
Source: Free review copy from Waterstones
Rating: 4.5 stars
Keep, return, swap or burn? Keep