the last of Booker 2014

scan0007Finally, I got around to reading US by David Nichols. The reason it took so long is that the novel never made it on to the short list, having only reached the bookshops after the short list was published, it languished on my to-read pile and kept being usurped by more interesting sounding/looking titles. Another thing that held me back was that I had not greatly enjoyed the extraordinarily popular One Day.

While the latter might have had the sub-title “reasons never to fall in love”, US was a self help book on how NOT to do parenting. The premise is that in the middle of the night a husband is shaken awake by Connie, his wife, not because she thinks there is an intruder (his first assumption) but because she has decided that the marriage has run its course.

The whole of the book is about the husband getting to grips with this un-pleasing information, while still maintaining to all intents and purposes, a normal existence. To the extent that with Albie, their teenage son, they fulfil the holiday plan to go on the Grand Tour…needless to say the plan unravels with excessive speed – a ladder in a nylon stocking could hardly have gone quicker. Teenage tearaway does a bunk while anguished father runs through his memories of courtship, marriage and father/son relationships. Happy memories which like snapshots of family beach holidays never show the bigger picture because one member of the party is behind the camera, so with his ideas of having a good time with his son. Having waited for years for the relationship to gel, they arrive at what might be described as the Lego-Age. Here is a classic example of how wrong parenting can get:

Yet Albie’s technique just wasn’t there. He seemed incapable of following the simplest instructions, happy instead to jam the different-coloured pieces together at random, to chew the pieces so that they became unusable, gum them up with Plasticine, drop them behind the radiator, throw them at the wall. If I constructed something on his behalf – a police station say, or an elaborate spaceship – he would smash the toy to pieces within minutes and make something nameless, formless thing to shove down the back of the sofa. Set after set expired this way.

One night, motivated entirely by a desire to give my son something lasting and permanent to play with, I waited until he and Connie were in bed, poured myself a large Scotch, mixed together some Araldite adhesive in a jam-jar lid, laid the instructions before me and carefully glued together a pirate ship, a troll castle and an ambulance…

Need I say more? This episode illustrates the gulf of difference between Albie and his father, all his best paternal intentions back-fired because his basic premise was that in some way the deficiency lay with the infant, not within himself. Albie grows up with the view that his father is disappointed in him…with predictable results. Personally, I found I could not even pity Douglas, as fathers go, he was a pathetic waste of space. Merely adequate is not good enough. Which sums up what I felt about the whole book


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