Sally Flint

Book Review on David Nicholl's You are Here

David Nicholls’ You Are Here was an exceptionally good book. It felt like it landed in my lap as if by fate, as I’d been contemplating doing Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk. The story follows the character Michael and Marnie as they find themselves completing the walk, arranged by their mutual friend Cleo. For Michael, the walk was a deliberate choice. Having recently separated from his wife and recovering from a breakdown, the geography teacher finds solace walking by himself. Marnie, on the other hand, only planned to walk for a couple of days, but perhaps against her better judgment, finds herself extending her walk until she almost walks the full coastal path.

The story is basically a character study of Marnie and Michael and the ensuing relationship between them. The story is peppered with conversations, incidents, and games to pass the time as they follow the Coast-to-Coast route. The use of music to define emotion, provide context and develop the plot is a tool that could have been cheesy and trite, but somehow in David Nicholls’ hands, it succeeds. The themes are timeless, but the timescale is current. The novel is clearly set in the here and now, and the issues of post-lockdown are all too present.

There are no sparks, passions, nothing extreme, and nothing exceptional in this story, yet it is utterly brilliant. David Nicholls is the absolute master of characterization. More than any other author I’ve ever read, Nicholls can not only capture the absolute essence of who we are but make us care deeply for them.

I’m often remiss when it comes to looking at titles and why they are important, but You Are Here is a powerful title. I think it refers quite literally to the place the characters are on the walk, but also where they are emotionally. It also feels like it is inclusive of the reader who is here with them.

You Are Here has come out with a lot of hype. Along with the serialization of Us and the earlier films Starter for Ten and One Day, I wouldn’t be surprised to see You Are Here on the screen too. I think it would be a wonderful film. The publishers have done well in promoting this text (two photos at the back!) and Ifeel I won’t be the only person who clambered to get a signed copy. Call it a hunch, but I think David Nicholls is a writer that lots of middle-aged women readers would like to meet! The writer almost seems to play on this, with the personal inclusion of unsuccessful walks at the end of the book. A writer who produces wonderful characters, presents himself as a wonderful family man, and can laugh at himself is someone we will want to know. Almost as likeable as a Geography teacher like Michael!

David Nicholls’ You Are Here is a real page-turner, delving deep into the essence of being alive and the intricacies of human connection, making it a captivating and profound literary exploration. I loved it!

Book Club Questions on David Nicholl's You are Here

  1. Which character did you like best and why? Discuss.
  2. When Cleo arranges the Coast to Coast walk, she sets up a date for both Marnie and Michael, Conrad, and Tessa. Discuss why she thinks these characters would be suitable for Michael and Marnie, rather than being suitable for each other.
  3. When Michael is attacked by five boys, he feels shame that he doesn’t fight back but rather pleads to not be beaten. Discuss this self-observation by Michael and the effect it has on him.
  4. What do you think will happen at the end of the story to Marnie and Michael?
  5. What three adjectives would you use to describe Marnie and Michael?
  6. Michael attributes the inability of him and his wife, Natasha, to have a baby as part of the reason for the failure of his marriage. If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss the significance of this and other contributing factors to the failed marriage.
  7. If you were casting for You Are Here, which actors would you put in the key roles?
  8. At the beginning of each chapter, the book has a map of the part of the walk being completed. Did you feel that this added anything to the story?
  9. At different points on Marnie and Michael’s journey, they both discuss drinking too much to ‘take the edge off’ or drown their sorrows, and they also drink a lot to manage socially awkward situations. Discuss whether you think this has significance in the story. If so, what? If not, why is this detail included.
  10. When Marnie returns from the walk, she contacts her ex-husband Neil and in a straightforward email stands up to her bullying husband Neil. Discuss this and other instances of bullying revealed in You Are Here.

Book Club Question on David Nicholl's You are Here (for those who haven't read the book)

  1. Michael and Marnie both talk about how they talk with their parents on the phone while doing something else. What is your view of multitasking while talking on the phone?
  2. Marnie swears almost constantly when climbing difficult peaks or traversing rough terrain. What kind of hiker do you think each other would be? Discuss.
  3. Michael is able to explain in detail the land formations and geological features, albeit with an element of self-consciousness to Marnie. Marnie is interested in listening to him, even though less interested in the comments themselves. How important are shared interests in a relationship?
  4. In You Are Here, Michael, as had his father been, a very keen walker. What do you see as the benefits of walking?
  5. In You Are Here, the characters describe music that was significant to them at different points in their lives, both good and bad. Discuss a song that connotes a particular emotional response for you.
  6. On the journey, Marnie and Michael become friendly with an older couple and spend an evening drinking and socialising with them. The next morning, the husband dies while hiking. Marnie self-reflects that although it is sad he died doing what he enjoyed. If you had to die doing something you enjoyed, what would you be doing? Discuss.
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