I got this book for Christmas after hearing good reviews about it on the Radio 2 Book Club and having enjoyed One Day, but have have only just got around to reading it. Although it took a little bit to get into (although this could be down to being too tired to concentrate) I really enjoyed it.
It is told from the point of view of Douglas, an introvert scientist whose son Albie is about to leave for university and whose flamboyant artist wife Connie has announced she thinks she wants to leave him. They head off on one last holiday as a family across Europe in their ‘Grand Tour’; from Paris to Amsterdam to Florence, in which Douglas hopes he can change Connie’s mind. Along the way, Douglas flips back and forth between the present day and the story of his meeting and falling in love with Connie, and their life together.
He ends up in all sorts of awkwardly funny situations, like booking a room in a sex hotel in Amsterdam and coming out with some brilliant one liners. You can clearly see his love for his family, but in a totally believable way as they clearly also drive him nuts sometimes too, like everyone else’s. It is the story of a normal family’s holiday anecdotes, but so well told you forget that not a lot actually happens for a lot of it.
However, this over spills into a blazing row, and Albie runs away, with Connie returning to England. Douglas then spends the remainder of the book searching for Albie in the hope of heroically being able to bring him home safe to Connie, and also gets pleasantly nostalgic along the way.Without giving the plot away too much, it is kind of a happy ending, but not in the way you expect.
I found myself alternately chuckling to myself, quietly hoping and almost crying alongside Douglas- it was very well written to keep you right on the edge of your seat, while also feeling comfortably wistful and content. The switching between past and present was a little confusing, and doesn’t have as strong narrative as One Day, but it still made sense once you got into the chapter a bit.
Nicholls’ description of Europe also infected me with the travel bug, making me desperate to pack a bag and see all of the sites they visit, although maybe not quite so art gallery focused as Connie. We will definitely be planning a trip to Florence soon!
Overall, I would recommend it to people as a gentle and enjoyable read that you will find hard to put down.