Review by Ann McDonald
Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date…and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.
This is an epic journey you’re going on with Douglas, Connie and Albie, the only child of the marriage, he is 18 years old and acts accordingly. It’s the life of two diametrically opposed people, who meet, fall in love, marry, become parents of a wee girl who dies soon after the birth, followed some time later by their son Albie. Douglas has planned a trip to all the European artistic places that will please Connie and help him to bond with his son, a troubled relationship to say the least. One morning they wake up and Connie tells Douglas that she is not sure she wants to stay married to him any more. He is stunned and cannot understand why.
She refuses to discuss it, later she says, but what about their trip he asks? Should they plan on going anyway? Should he cancel it? She says no, they can still go but will discuss everything at a later date. Grasping at straws, Douglas hopes the tour might help Connie find what she has lost. Author David Nicholls builds his story by slipping back and forth in time so the backstory is well drawn and it slowly becomes a great read. Douglas is a scientist, staid and proper with a mind well trained and everything in its right place. There is order in his world. His sister decides he must get a girlfriend so a party is arranged and enter Connie.
She is an artist who has no conception of order at all, smokes the odd joint and smiles at Douglas, her chaos surrounding him and his order is doomed but he is entirely smitten with her. There is great humor here and when he decides to leave the party, Connie leaves with him and he walks her home. Douglas explains his work to her and he mistakes the intense look on her face as interest in what he is saying, the truth be known that she is trying to hold on to her head, she should not have had that last joint. The scene is priceless. As I said earlier, there is some wonderful humor on display as they struggle to find common ground to build a relationship.
The odyssey starts out as they make their way via the Chunnel from London to Paris and it is a great journey and if you have ever wanted to travel to the great European art museums, this is a good way to enjoy it without leaving the comfort of your own home. The heart of this story is an open look at a relationship that has you shaking your head, cheering and then running for the wine bottle. This is almost like an autopsy of a marriage and Nicholls does not spare them at all and at times, it is harrowing and you feel like weeping. They do find out who they are on this journey and the thing I liked about it is, the acceptance of themselves as they are.
This book is staying on my shelf – go buy your own copy, it is worth every penny. It will make a great gift for the reader who likes some meat with their sauce. Very highly recommended.
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