You are here with David Nicholls review – love is in the fresh air

Tnearing the publication of David Nicholls’ sixth book, You are herea review of Netflix’s excellent remake of One day it gives the novel an added sense of sadness. If One day (2009) saw Nicholls as a writer in his mid-40s looking back on the love and loss of his twenties, here we find him approaching 60 and turning his attention to another couple on the other side of 40. One day it was high drama, the setup here is simple, and at least at first it’s clearly a comedy. But the shadow of the earlier book, of Dexter and Emma’s will-they-can’t-love, hangs over this book.

Michael Bradshaw, a geography teacher distraught from a series of personal setbacks, deeply saddened by his separation from his future wife Natasha, decides to take a walk on Alfred Wainwright’s famous beach to the coastal path through the Lakes and the Pennines. His happily married colleague, Cleo, despairing that she can’t go on, turns a private trip into a party. He invites the gang for the first leg of the trip: Conrad, the “absurdly charming” pharmacist; Cleo’s taciturn teenage son, Anthony; and Marnie Walsh, copy editor, “aged 38, of Herne Hill, London”. There was supposed to be another friend, Tessa, whom Cleo had invited as a possible match for Michael, but she dropped out at the last minute.

You are here is a great comic novel that also asks the reader to think about the place of humor in literature: there is a dangerous proximity throughout the novel between laughter and tears. The narrative moves from Marnie to Michael, short chapters with a close-up third-person point of view that pass like a baton from one to the other (until, finally, the official success, and move to Victorian all knowledge). Marnie’s chapters show how humor is involved in her loneliness: “If she blinked on the face of the earth no one in London would notice for a few weeks.” He cuts through the moments of intimacy with laughter, showing both the carapace that humor can provide, but also how it can destroy, becoming a barrier between Marnie and those who might love her. . Michael is deeper, more wounded, he knows that “his honesty invites laughter”.

Like Michael, Marnie has been in a broken marriage, while Neil, who was hers, is a cartoonist, vain and possessive. At first, when they leave the Irish Sea, Marnie is attracted to Conrad, who has come to the mountains in jeans and trainers. He and Marnie are both urban, though he, at least, has brought a good supply of Gore-Tex and a very large rucksack. Despite the fact that Marnie finds something “strong anti-aphrodisiac about the English countryside” and that Conrad seems like a drop, sparks are born. However, Michael is always there in the background, looking respectable.

A map of one of the tours from You Are Here. Comparison: Hodder

In fact, it is that Marnie returns to Michael again and again, his warm description of how he draws us to him and to him in equal measure: “His face … a ruined journey…”; later, he he’s “old fashioned, he’s the one from a sepia photograph whose only lady is the sea”; he looked like someone who spent a year filming puffins in the Hebrides he plans to go the first three days of the trip, but Conrad drops out, and Cleo goes with Anthony, and Marnie and Michael, who are private practitioners, alone.

Nicholls is very beautiful in the environment of this beautiful part of the world. The story describes two attractions: the first is the second, if uncomfortable and murky, love between Michael and Marnie; the second follows Marnie’s reluctance to accept the rural landscape. As the couple traverses hills and valleys, and Marnie’s self-imposed time passes, we find ourselves always moving forward, and the sight of the other, our sympathy drawn in other ways. We see how everyone stands in the way of a shared happy ending and how infuriating, how senseless this is. The reader is so invested in the consequences of this unhappy, everyday love, wearing a cagoule that it makes the whole world tremble in some mysterious way, as if such reports are everywhere, invisible.

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