About The Book
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.
The price of hope, it seems, is Shakespeare.
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.
You know those writers whose books you buy without even properly knowing what they are about? Well, for me, David Nicholls is one of those authors. I think many people will know him for his hugely successful novel, One Day which broke hearts everywhere. I loved that book, but my favourite has always been Starter For Ten (and there is a brilliant film adaptation too which features a young Benedict Cumberbatch), but Sweet Sorrow, might – just might – have pipped it.
Set in the summer of 1997, it features 16 year old Charlie who has just finished his GCSEs, is facing a long wait for his results and a long wait for whatever it is that comes next. This was enough to draw me in as I was also 16 in 1997 and could identify strongly with the sense of stepping off a cliff into the unknown.
For Charlie, what happens next is that he meets a girl, Fran, and is intoxicated by her. She’s a member of the Company, a group of teens and adults who are going to put on an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet. And what else is a teenage boy going to do when faced with a long summer ahead, a home life he is trying to avoid and a girl he can’t stop thinking about? Well, join the Company of course.
It is a bittersweet and tender read about first loves and growing up. Told via present day Charlie reminiscing about the summer 1997, a pivitol time in his life, it is presented with the sepia tones that only comes with looking back. But, it never feels saccharine or cloying, in fact the beauty of falling in first love is counteracted by that difficult home life I alluded to earlier. As Charlie’s background is revealed to us in increments we fall deeper in love with him and protective of this young, sweet, kind and lost young man.
David Nicholls’ insightful and empathetic writing create a world that I fell headlong into. There is some lovely world building, particularly at the beginning and, whilst some may feel it was a little slow, it is so cleverly done that before you know it you’ve fallen for Charlie. It reminded me so clearly of being that age, of first love and all that comes with it. The awful, cringey things, the lovely moments and the beauty of it all. David Nicholls is so skilled at writing this sort of thing, perfectly encapsulating the stomach swooping feelings that I felt I was there with Charlie in the grounds of a grand house rehearsing Romeo and Juliet.
But, the Shakespeare! Oh how I loved the Shakespeare. The use of rehearsals to mirror the events in Charlie’s life and the use of Shakespeare’s words used to convey what Charlie cannot articulate was just gorgeous. It felt almost other-worldly at times and took on an ethereal essence which was intoxicating. I was absorbed.
It is just a beautiful and heady read and was one of those books that saw me clambering into bed at 8.30pm so I could lose myself reading the last third. It has a lovely timeless quality that meant I could ignore some of the references that felt more 1980s than 1990s and just allow myself to fall in love with it. Sweet Sorrow is a wonderful, gorgeous and immersive book and comes highly recommended from me.