“I think our marriage has run its course,” Douglas’s wife tells him in the middle of one night. Their only son is about to leave for college, but first, the family will be leaving on a Grand Tour of Europe together. Douglas, a biochemist and an orderly sort of man whose artist wife and son tease him about laminating their travel plans, has grand hopes for the trip: that it will help him prove to Connie they should stay together as well as somehow help him connect with the son who seems to only get along with his mother.
Naturally, grand expectations have a way of going unfulfilled, sometimes in grandly disastrous ways, so it’s no surprise when Douglas finds himself disappointing Connie and Albie at various times along the way. In the brief chapters of the book, readers cringe at the things Douglas says and does before he realizes their impact. Interspersed with scenes from the trip are Douglas’ recollections of how he met and wooed Connie and how their relationship progressed over 25 years.
The book is practically perfect: it examines so beautifully a longtime marriage between two very different people, the highs and lows and in-betweens, without resorting to cheap plays for readers’ sympathies. Even serious matters that could, in the wrong hands, be maudlin are deftly and lightly handled. Nicholls’ previous book, One Day, was a good one, but it did resort to a big bang of a twist that could be seen as a nasty trick by the writer. Here, however, the story plays out naturally and is balanced wonderfully. There are laugh-out-loud moments that gave me no choice but to read them aloud to whoever was near and descriptive passages that made me in awe of Nicholls’ cleverness. I can’t say enough about how well written this book is.
Rated: High, for 10 uses of strong language and occasional milder language, and a few sexual references.