By David Nicholls
Rated: 4 stars ****
About the Author
David Nicholls is the bestselling author of US, ONE DAY, STARTER FOR TEN and THE UNDERSTUDY. His novels have sold over 8 million copies worldwide and are published in forty languages. David’s fifth novel, SWEET SORROW, was published by Hodder in July 2019.
David trained as an actor before making the switch to writing. He is an award-winning screenwriter, with TV credits including the third series of Cold Feet, a much-praised modern version of Much Ado About Nothing, The 7.39 and an adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. David wrote the screenplays for Great Expectations (2012) and Far from the Madding Crowd (2015, starring Carey Mulligan). He has twice been BAFTA nominated and his recent adaptation of Patrick Melrose from the novels by Edward St Aubyn won him an Emmy nomination.
His bestselling first novel, STARTER FOR TEN, was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club in 2004, and in 2006 David went on to write the screenplay of the film version.
His third novel, ONE DAY, was published in 2009 to extraordinary critical acclaim, and stayed in the Sunday Times top ten bestseller list for ten weeks on publication. ONE DAY won the 2010 Galaxy Book of the Year Award.
David’s fourth novel, US, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014 and was another no. 1 Sunday Times bestseller. In 2014, he was named Author of the Year
One life-changing summer
Charlie meets Fran…
In 1997, Charlie Lewis is the kind of boy you don’t remember in the school photograph. His exams have not gone well. At home he is looking after his father, when surely it should be the other way round, and if he thinks about the future at all, it is with a kind of dread.
Then Fran Fisher bursts into his life and despite himself, Charlie begins to hope.
But if Charlie wants to be with Fran, he must take on a challenge that could lose him the respect of his friends and require him to become a different person. He must join the Company. And if the Company sounds like a cult, the truth is even more appalling.
Sweet Sorrow – part of a quote of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.” Sweet Sorrow is one of the themes that runs throughout the book and one that David Nicholls deals with great skill to create a story of a man in his thirties looking back at life when he was 16 in 1997.
The beginning is dramatic to say the least: The world would end on Thursday at 3:55pm after the disco. That is what is decided in the world of school leavers on their last day of school. I must say, it certainly grabs attention. The graffiti and the scrawled messages on shirts friends messages is something many will be able to relate to. The last day of term is perfectly described with an almost tangible atmosphere and one which so many people would remember from their school days. There’s the usual teacher and lovers dancing to the slow music. There’s the awkwardness of people too such as between Charlie and Helen and when Charlie Lewis danced with Emily, who has more feelings for him that he does for her, which is such sweet sorrow. There’s also the worrying of exam results and the thoughts of completely failing.
There is some really touching writing when Charlie wishes he spoke to his school friends more. This in itself is thought-provoking about the way society can be now and back then and made me wonder how many people wish they just made that little bit more effort to keep in touch with others, and how in the future, even with all the technology to hand, there may be people who wish they had kept in touch with others more and differently. David Nicholls in his writing just seems so insightful.
Charlie’s life is not an easy one. His mum started a new life and job. This means a lot of caring for his dad, where there is a plenty of worrying times. The book highlights that sometimes life is unfair at times and can be really tough.
David Nicholls does give his main character – Charlie Lewis some hope when he meets Fran Fisher and his life changes. She belongs to the Full Fathom Five Theatre Co-operative, who are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet. He ended up joining the group, not that he really wanted to, he only wanted Fran’s phone number. David Nicholls shows great understanding and observation of young love and writes it characteristically of that age.
Later in the book there’s a party that is attended by Charlie. It is illustrated through the wonderful descriptions. Fran and Charlie do have their first kiss and it is a really lovely , tender romantic scene is painted. The writing is evocative and is so beautifully and tastefully written. As the book moves on readers will find out about what happens within this relationship.
The story twists and turns in the most unexpected ways as incidents happen and the book gathers a bit more pace as the tone changes.
There’s sweet sorrow again, like there was on that last day of school, but this time on the performance days of Romeo and Juliet through the description of mixed feelings of sadness it will be over with, but also glad. There are some heartwarming moments of his dad and what he thinks of his son acting his part out.
The book has a great ending and in its closing pages, it takes readers to years later and it makes for some very interesting reading to see what happened to the characters, now they have grown up.
Ultimately, David Nicholls captures adolescence very well. It is moving, holds some humour within it, amongst some sadness, bittersweetness, sweet sorrow within the big themes of life, which are written exquisitely. It is a vivid book. It is so picturesque in some of the descriptions and yet nothing is over described. It is written exceptionally well and whether you have read a book by David Nicholls before or not, I recommend you give this perceptive book a read.