Thursday, 31 October 2013

Inferior Book Group #2:

Order, order!  I hope you've all got a cheap glass of wine to hand and have done your homework, because it's time for October's Inferior Book Group.  Don't worry, I won't be forcing anybody to read aloud.  If you saw last month's book group post, you'll know that most recently I have been reading Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace (2012).  Without further ado, here's what I thought of it:

I am a really big fan of Danny Wallace's previous books.  You are probably familiar with the 2008 Jim Carrey film, Yes Man, but you may not be aware that Danny Wallace wrote the book that the movie was based on.  You'll notice that I'm avoiding the word 'novel', because Danny actually lived as a 'yes man' for a year (saying yes to every invite and opportunity, in a bid to be less negative) in order to write the book.  

After seeing the film, I looked into its origins, bought a copy of Wallace's book and was hooked.  I went back and devoured Join Me (where Danny accidentally starts a cult), went to a reading and signing with the man himself for Friends Like These (where Danny tracks down old friends he has lost touch with) and received the more recent Awkward Situations for Men (where Danny serialises his most cringeworthy encounters) as a birthday present a couple of years ago.

Charlotte Street is different, though.  I bought my copy last year (not long after its release) and it remained patiently on my bookcase until I selected it for Inferior Book Group last month.  The truth is - as silly as it may sound - I was scared to read it.  Charlotte Street is Danny Wallace's first work of fiction.  I adored his non-fiction so much that I didn't want to risk ruining it for myself with a substandard, cheesy romance.  

Honestly, I needn't have worried.  What I came to realise whilst reading the novel is that even the author's non-fiction books must all contain at least some element of fiction.  From the renaming of friends to protect their privacy, to the re-jigging of events to build suspense - all good writing involves a little bit of artistic licence.

Source: here
The front cover of Charlotte Street describes itself as 'A heartwarming everyday tale of boy stalks girl'.  That, in a nutshell, is the plot of the novel.  Creepy right?  Without giving too much away, hero Jason (who tells us the story from his point of view) spends the whole book chasing after a girl he once bumped into on Charlotte Street.  And when I say the whole book, I mean the whole book.  The not-quite-meetings and perpetual 'so close and yet so far' element are frustrating for the reader, but keeping the hero and heroine of the story apart for its entire duration is both a unique and brave move on Wallace's part.

I recognised character types from Danny's earlier, non-fiction work.  Jason is clearly based on the writer himself, while best friend Dev is reminiscent of Danny's own sidekicks in Yes Man and Friends Like These.  Jason's super sensible ex-girlfriend, Sarah, reminded me a lot of Hanne, the girlfriend who dumps Danny during Join Me, but remains a friend in the background of Yes Man.  They say that the majority of first novels are semi-autobiographical, and even though the names were different, Jason's narration in Charlotte Street felt close enough to Danny's in past books to be familiar.

Source: here

I've already said that, in general, I very much enjoyed the book.  Danny's writing style is easy to read and always funny, and I am a sucker for a soppy romance story, even if it is a slightly unconventional one.  However, some sections (particularly around three quarters of the way in) were slower than others, and there were a few pieces of clichéd writing and dialogue that I found hard to stomach.  

Although it may have been an intentional reference or a complete coincidence, one fairly serious plot twist seemed to have been pinched straight from High Fidelity, pretty much word for word.  I love High Fidelity, so that didn't really sit well with me - sorry, Danny!  There were also short and extremely cryptic 'blog posts' from another character interspersed between Jason's chapters.  I understand the purpose of these, but didn't enjoy them and think the book could have worked perfectly well without.

I'm sorry to put all of the negative comments near the end of this review, because overall Charlotte Street gets a high rating from me.  It's nice to read a (kind of) love story from a male perspective, for a change, and Danny Wallace has a refreshingly honest and straightforward style.  If you're already a fan, definitely give this book a go.  If you aren't, I would highly recommend the non-fiction books too.  Finally, if you aren't a big reader, Charlotte Street is apparently being made into a film in the near future, so just wait until then!

During November, I'll be reading Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, which was recommended by one of my uni lecturers.  I picked the well loved copy above up from a local second hand book shop, and I absolutely adore the cover art!

No comments:

Post a Comment