I’m sitting here in my writers’ shed, gazing out from the window when I should be filling the blank page on my laptop with sparkling prose.
Instead, I pick up the book I’m reading currently, Sweet Sorrow, by David Nicholls and relate completely to the protagonist, Charlie Lewis. I’m halfway through and Charlie is struggling with his GCSEs in a life-changing summer dominated by the breakdown of normal family life and teenage angst.
My memory of sitting my O levels back in 1977 is one on which I don’t care to dwell, a rite of passage I prefer to forget.
I just want to tell the teenage Charlie that it’s going to be all right. Whatever his results – and it is clear he is doomed to fail – he can move on and make his mark on the world in his adult life, one way or another.
According to the blurb on the inside of the dust jacket, ‘Poignant, funny, enchanting, devastating, Sweet Sorrow is a tragicomedy about the rocky path to adulthood and the confusion of family life, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, searing explosion of first love that can only be looked at directly after it has burned out.’
On my reading so far, Sweet Sorrow is already well up there with One Day, Nicholls’ bestselling novel about a man and woman who meet on 15 July, St Swithin’s Day, for 20 years. Nicholls wrote the screenplay for the film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.
I enjoyed, too, his last book, Us, which tells the poignant tale of a marriage in crisis and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.
Nicholls is the kind of mainstream author who really gets under your skin. His storytelling, characters and dialogue flow like a stream on its way to maturity. His books are the thinking person’s go-to summer read.
His screenwriting prowess (Patrick Melrose, Far From the Madding Crowd) is evident in this novel, which I’m as sure as eggs are eggs will be a great coming of age film in the future. Already, the book has been aired on Radio 4 with actor James Norton narrating an abridged version. I started to listen to it while decorating but stopped when I thought the adaptation might spoil my own reading of the novel. Books are usually so much better in your own head, at least first time around.
Here’s some praise for Sweet Sorrow:
‘Nicholls’ ability to create and then subvert the traditional plot for comedy is the secret of his success. It makes us confront the gap between what we expect from storytelling and what happens in real life.’ Spectator
‘There is a sharp, empathetic intelligence to his writing that makes his characters real…often dazzles with truth…sad, funny, soulful.’ Observer
Nicholls has just returned from a whistle-stop tour of Australia (Oz in a week, for goodness sake) as well as undertaking a series of speaking events in the UK.
You can see him at Bridport Literary Festival on Saturday 9 November at 5pm at the Electric Palace. He’s an affable, ordinary sort of chap, and a brilliant writer and speaker. If you’re going to only one BridLit event in November, this is the one to get tickets for.
Next on my reading list is Lanny by Max Porter. Longlisted for this year’s Booker, this short novel is one I want to read in splendid solitude, early in the morning, up on Lewesdon Hill with only the ravens and rustling beech trees for company. Porter will be talking about the book at the Bull Ballroom on Tuesday 5 November at 4pm.