It is 10 years since David Nicholls’ acclaimed third novel, One Day, was published. Us followed in 2015 and now we have Sweet Sorrow, his long awaited fifth novel, which takes place in 1997 over a life-changing summer.
Charlie Lewis looks back at himself as a 16-year-old expecting poor GCSE results from his comprehensive. Bored and unhappy, abandoned by his school friends and his mother who has left his alcoholic father taking his sister with her, Charlie is without purpose. He has a part time job at a garage and likes to ride his bike.
Then he meets Fran Fisher. On a bike ride, lying in the grass reading, he hears her fall and goes to her rescue. She has just taken her GCSEs at the local independent school and is part of a theatre collective, the Full Fathom Five, at Fawley Manor, owned by a thespian couple who stage a Shakespeare play in the grounds every summer with local students.
When Charlie helps Fran back to the manor, he finds that the cast are not only from the private school but also from his old school. This year’s play is Romeo and Juliet and Fran is Juliet. They need a Benvolio and Charlie is persuaded to take the role. He knows nothing about Shakespeare but Fran teaches him. Charlie falls instantly in love with her and eventually with Shakespeare.
The way in which the author bases his plot on the plot of Romeo and Juliet is delightful with allusion after allusion to the characters, the story and the power of the language. Teenage love - and lust - is presented with poignancy, humour and understanding.
This review was written by Roz Masters and first appeared in the OctNov 2019 edition of OVL Magazine.