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Charlotte Street is the first novel by writer, journalist and presenter (amongst other things) Danny Wallace. It is not, however, his first book. Wallace has amassed quite a following over the years with his selection of humourous books detailing the adventures and mishaps that he and his friends get into - usually on the tailend of a bet or a dare. I'm a big fan of his other published works, so I was very hopeful going into this novel.
I was not disappointed by Charlotte Street. Well, not entirely. I found the book to be witty, well written and suitably charming in places. It is a curious plot that keeps you intrigued, and, if anything, the sideplots are even more quirky and interesting. I have heard other opinions that they wished he would "get on with it" and hurry up the pace of the main plot, but I found that it was the smaller storylines in this book that gave it charm. The characters are brilliant and layered. I found myself annoyed by the antagonist's best friend Dev at the start, but he grew on me as the story progressed and developed into possibly my favourite character.
So, this brings us to the slight disappointment that I hinted at earlier. It seems like an odd gripe, but the novel had too much of Danny Wallace in it. It's understandable that he would write in his recognised voice and style, but it was so similar to his previous non-fiction books, that I found myself wishing he had done something a bit different. The plot of a man trying to track down a girl through photos found in her disposable camera was a nice idea, but the obsessiveness that he does it with makes it seem exactly like the adventures of his other books. Even Jason, his antagonist, seems like a thinly-veiled verson of the author.
However, these flaws were not a major concern, and would only really affect somebody who is familiar with Wallace's other works. The book is a great first novel from a witty and inventive author. I look forward to seeing his next novel.
I have enjoyed my (admittedly limited) forays into the non-fiction work of Danny Wallace before, so was keen to try his debut novel. It is available in paperback form from £6.50 on Amazon (RRP £12.99) or £6.18 in Kindle format at the time of writing (September 2012).
The synopsis is thus: Jason Priestly (no, not that one) a former teacher, now struggling freelance journalist, bumps into a stranger on Charlotte Street in London one day. As he helps her pick up her stuff and clamber into a taxi, he finds he is left standing with a disposable camera in his hand. Captivated by this girl and easily influenced by his friends, he gets the film developed and tries to track her down through her random assortment of pictures.
Personally, I found the beginning of the book slow going. Jason isn't the most dynamic character in the world, single, in his thirties and living in his friend Dev's flat, above a videogame shop, next to a building that everyone thinks is a brothel but isn't. He has screwed up his previous relationship, plus felt he couldn't cope with his job as a teacher and seemingly is drifting along with no real direction. Eventually the cast of supporting characters helps the book pick up pace a bit: His bestie Dev, Abbey who he meets through a band he is reviewing, his boss and Uni friend Zoe plus his ex, Sarah, and her new man Gary, not to mention a former pupil and a high flying PR guru. Poor Jason can't seem to do anything right and with reflection, his best ideas, however well-intentioned, haven't really been that good.
Jason seems to be a bit of a screw-up and at times rather pathetic, but as I have mentioned above, most of his efforts are well-intentioned, if misguided and that means you stay on his side and root for him. Admittedly for most of the book he realises the error of his ways, but doesn't seem to do much about them. I found this frustrating but was still on his side. The character of Jason is well-written as are the supporting characters to varying degrees. I found them well-drawn and easy to imagine. The story generally was good, and there was more to it than just a search (which at times bordered on stalking) of a random girl. However, whilst I mostly enjoyed the light humour of the story (never 'laugh-out-loud') it did seem to meander in occasional places, and lose direction slightly. Generally the book is well-written and a good, easy read without becoming 'pulp' or trashy.
I assumed the book would fall under the 'lad-lit' genre, but I think that it is doing it a slight dis-service, although it does remind me of some Mike Gayle books (mainly 'My Legendary Ex-Girlfriend') which also had a borderline-pathetic anti-hero. I think it is certainly accessible to the female reader; it isn't crude or 'bloke-ish'.
Whilst I enjoy Wallace's writing style and subtle humour and generally enjoyed the book, I did find it slow to get going and think it could be tighter at the beginning. The various strands of the story detracted from the original premise (a girl who loses her disposable camera) to the extent that the book wasn't necessarily about that but a meandering tale of a few months in Jason's life. For that reason I feel I have to knock off two stars.