You Are Here by David Nicholls - review by Stevie Davies

Stevie Davies

Lonely as a Cumulonimbus

You Are Here

By

Sceptre 368pp £20
 

David Nicholls is celebrated as the outstanding exponent of the variant of literary romcom known as ‘rom-trag’. Fifteen years after its publication, his masterpiece, One Day, newly adapted as a Netflix series, once again features on bestseller lists. The novel follows an on–off couple who meet at university. Nicholls has since rung the changes, turning his attention to adolescent first love in Sweet Sorrow, and a disintegrating married partnership in Us. Like Us, which conducts its characters on a not-so-grand tour of Europe, You Are Here is a Reiseroman whose jaded adventurers are past early youth. Despite empathic narration, spectacular settings and verbal playfulness, the novel – heavy with backstory – has its longueurs.

Marnie and Michael meet and seek to bond on a walk across the north of England – the Lakes, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. It’s a rough pastoral, full of beauty, rain, mud, tough climbs and general ‘wuthering’. Marnie, a 38-year-old divorced copy editor, takes along Wuthering Heights as appropriate reading. Michael, a 42-year-old geography teacher, has suffered a breakdown and separation from his beloved wife, Natasha. Might a walk in the countryside organised by a mutual friend alleviate their sense of having fallen by the wayside? Each is childless, reclusive, scarred. They begin their journey confined in alternating short chapters, as though in windowless cells in which vitality has dwindled and the self has shrunk.

Larkin’s poem ‘Wants’ came irresistibly to mind: ‘Beyond all this, the wish to be alone:/However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards’. The darkness of the invitation card looms in You Are Here. Once Marnie is invited on the walk, her ‘small and shrinking life’ becomes so intolerable that

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