Last year I read The Rosie Project with glee, mirth, a sense of smug knowingness about the whole endeavor, because couldn’t I on some level identify with Rosie (as a carefree, spontaneous, and let's face it - slightly manic type myself) as well as understand Don (who might well have been only a slightly exaggerated version of my computer science PhD boyfriend)? Of course I happily projected my relationship all over their romance. Ah, isn’t it the best when you can do that?
Well the zeitgeist indeed seems to be summed up these days by “revenge of the nerds.” There they go, starting startups and becoming billionaires; there they go landing lucrative jobs post-university, there they go snapping up all the pretty ladies and charming manic pixie dream girls. There they go, becoming the protagonists of all the bestselling novels.
I picked up Us, by David Nicholls, on a whim. I had been craving some relationship or family novel, something lighter than the last read and hopefully involving some comedy. Nicholls had written One Day previously, a bad movie I’d once seen but a light story that seemed to have the right amount of British wit and romance.
Us essentially takes the same types of characters from The Rosie Project and pushes them forward 25 years in the future. The once whimsical and successful relationship between scientist and artist has become strained, burdened, frankly - old, and their marriage is at a crisis point. Divorce looms in the air.
What I appreciated about Us, aside from the jokes and the cool characters and the sometimes silly storyline, was how Nicholls gave us a whole picture of a marriage, without distilling 25 years of partnership dissolution into the easy choice, the cliche of ‘they weren’t right for each other, never were, too different.’ What a marriage entails no one knows, except for the two inside. Nicholls paints a quarter of a century of partnership, of happiness, of tragedy, of luck and bad luck, of babies and stillbirths, and gives us one hell of a big, complicated, messy thing. I guess that’s what marriage is. And I suppose that’s what the conventional wisdom says. Nothing’s as simple as it might seem.
A great quote from the book about that:
"When I was a child, this is how I imagined married life to be...there are ups and downs, undulations on the plain, but for the most part you can see what’s coming up ahead and you walk towards it, the two of you hand in hand for thirty, forty, fifty years, until one of you slides over the edge and the other one follows soon after. Well, I can tell you now that married life is not a plateau, not at all. There are ravines and great jagged peaks and hidden crevasses that send the both of you scrabbling into darkness. Then there are the dull, parched stretches that you feel will never end, and much of the journey is in fraught silence, and sometimes you can’t see the other person at all, sometimes they drift off very far away from you, quite out of sight, and the journey is hard. It is just very, very, very hard."
As to whether they make it or not, well, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself!