Sixteen-year-old Charlie Lewis has flunked his exams. The long summer holidays stretch out before him and the prospect of having to stay at home, variously watching out for and avoiding his father’s mood swings, is far from appealing. When Fran Fisher literally stumbles into his life, she offers Charlie a get-out, but there’s one catch: hanging out with Fran means becoming part of the Full Fathom Five – which in short means amateur dramatics and Shakespeare.
It couldn’t get any worse for Charlie but if he wants to have any chance with Fran, all he can do is go along with it. Before he knows it, he’s play-acting with swords and reciting Elizabethan verse, but all in the name of love – and surely that’s worth it.
It doesn’t need to be said that David Nicholls knows how to write love stories, and in Charlie and Fran’s story he offers a beautifully nostalgic glimpse of that first love played out against the backdrop of the long, lazy days of summer, bursting with youthful optimism.
The story is a bit of a slow-burner to begin with and I felt the younger characters were old beyond their years, but the atmosphere Nicholls create in this book is one of the most powerful and palpable I’ve ever read – he really makes you long to relive those days all over again. (JC)
Douglas' wife, Connie, informs him in the middle of the night that she's leaving him, when their 17-year-old son Albie heads off to college. But first the family will take their planned trip to Europe together. What Connie sees as a fitting end to their marriage, Douglas hopes will be his chance to win her back.
As the Grand Tour kicks off - travelling from Paris to Amsterdam and beyond - the well-developed narrative weaves into the past, revealing that Douglas has always felt out of his league with Connie - a socially awkward biochemist to her free-spirited artist - and has a strained relationship with Albie.
It's a funny and moving story about an unravelling relationship built on opposing values, centred around a man cast adrift and facing a lonely future. It did lose me in the middle - sort of the way an endless tour of museums and art galleries would lose me in real life - but Nicholls' superb characterisations and wit pulled me back. But be warned, all you'll want to do for most of the book is knock some sense into Douglas and make him see Connie's a far too self-centred individual for him anyway.
Emma Morley and Dex Mayhew first get together on the night of their college graduation in Edinburgh, July 15, 1988. Neither is sure where the future is going to take them. Emma is an honour student in English and History, while the super-confident 23-year-old Dex is heading off the next day to travel the world.
The story then traces what each is up to on that same day over the next two decades. As their fortunes wax and wane and life dishes up both success and disappointments, sometimes they become tantalisingly close to getting together, at other times they couldn't seem further apart.
Having heard much praise for this book with its intriguing same-day-each-year concept, I went in with very high expectations. I especially love will-they-or-won't-they storylines and this has to be the best I've read. By fluke I read it on July 15 - the same date the book is centred around. The rapport between Emma and Dex is magnificent, their exchanges witty, clever and moving. All I can say to anyone who hasn't read it, don't wait another day to pick this one up.