Friday, 18 October 2013
Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
Published by: Ebury Press
Contemporary Romance & Humour
Charlotte Street is the story of Jason Priestly, a former teacher who now works as a freelance journalist, writing mainly for one of those free magazines that are handed out outside tube stations. More than likely, anyone over 35 will know he shares his name with an actor who was big in the 90s for being in the American teen drama, Beverly Hills 90210, something he constantly gets jokes and comments about.
Jase, as he is known, lost his girlfriend to a guy who makes him feel inadequate and his job as a teacher to a traumatic experience that happened in the classroom. The details of this are sketchy but touched upon at the beginning of the novel. Now Jase is living with his best friend from uni and his dream job has not turned out to be as great as he had hoped. He is of a melancholy disposition and is starting to wallow in his sorrows over losing his girlfriend.
One day while standing on Charlotte Street he observes a girl trying to get her many shopping bags into the taxi she hailed. He goes to her aid and during the brief exchange feels a connection with her. It is only after the taxi has pulled away that he realises he is still holding something that belongs to her - a 35mm disposable camera. As the taxi disappears, Jason has a brief fantasy about a more favourable outcome of their exchange (one that ends with them going out) and he wonders how he may find her - if only to return her camera. The following day he is sitting in a restaurant on Charlotte Street across from where he met The Girl and sees her there again. He realises she is retracing her steps, looking for something. He runs to the cloakroom to get his jacket, where her camera is, intending to rush out and give it to her. It feels like fate and an opportunity to make his fantasy a reality. The problem is, by the time he gets outside, she is speeding off in a taxi, again....
I enjoyed Charlotte Street very much and I loved the writing, which is both witty and smart. Jason is a guy in his early 30s* who isn't having much luck with love, friendships or work. He is still pining for his ex and spends too much time stalking her on Facebook, only to get upset because she is 'having the time of her life' with her new man. Dev, his best friend can see that he is in a rut and in danger of moving from melancholy to miserable. He tries to help by encouraging him to seek out The Girl. This is meant to keep Jason occupied and to give him hope. What follows is a mini adventure that involves developing The Girl's pictures and using the snapshots as clues. The pictures together tell a story and by uncovering the story they hope to find her.
The novel is described as an everyday tale, and that is a good description. If you are looking for high drama you won't find it in this book. Instead you get a guy's account of what is going on in his life. This may sound uninteresting but I enjoyed it because his observations are perceptive and witty. Jason is humble and self-deprecating and as he talks to us he becomes an open book. Without admitting it explicitly, we get to see how damaged he has become as a result of a chain of events that started with an awful experience that occurred one day in a classroom. I could not help but empathise and wish him well. Although flawed (he confesses his sins to us), he is a very likeable character and I could not help but forgive his misdemeanours. (He is hard enough on himself.)
Charlotte Street has had mixed reviews and I noticed that, for readers that did not like it, the common criticism was that they found it boring. Most people aren't interested in hearing about other people's problems - especially the kind therapy may help them overcome. For some people it's just not fun reading about them; it's boring (which is fair enough). For me it showed that the writing is not just surface. There is depth to it - and, personally, I like my novels to have some depth. Also, there is something I find comforting about characters who wear their heart on their sleeve and admit that shit is happening to them. After all, is there anyone out there whose life is perfect?
The novel has a cinematic feel to it. By that I mean I could see it as a British Rom-Com similar to those by Richard Curtis (4 Weddings..., Love Actually etc.). Danny Wallace is a well-known comedian and writer. He is writing the screenplay to Charlotte Street so I guess the movie is in the pipeline.
I listened to the audio version, which was read by Mackenzie Crook (the actor who featured in The Office and Pirates of the Caribbean).
*I stand corrected, apparently it is not only some women who have a crisis when they get to the wrong side of 30 (which, BTW, is 31+.)