Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace

Jason Priestly (no, not that one) is not doing well.  He's depressed.  He gave up his job as a teacher to become a journalist but his work writing snarky reviews for a free local newspaper is not very fulfilling.  He's still obsessing over his ex-girlfriend but according to her cheery Facebook posts, she just got engaged to someone else. His life is so dull his own most recent Facebook status update is that he's eating soup. Nothing much is going right for him and he's indulging in a huge pity party.  Until one day when he helps a beautiful girl getting into a cab with a load of packages.  She smiles at him and rides out of his life.  But he has her disposable camera which he inadvertantly forgot to hand back to her and after looking for her at various different times on Charlotte Street and not finding her, his roommate Dev convinces him that he should develop the pictures despite Jason's own concerns about the ethics of it all.  After all, the pictures might contain clues to her identity and if she is the girl that fate has directed him to find, he should at least make the effort, right?  So goes the premise of Danny Wallace's debut novel, Charlotte Street.
Jason is wallowing in his own inability to find happiness.  He's directionless and living a pitiable, disappointing sort of life until this missed connection with "The Girl" rejuvenates him, gives him a quest and a reason to get out of bed every day.  But even as Jason starts to work through the pictures on the camera, searching for the girl, he must also continue to wade through his current life and find the strength to face the truths about himself and his past that are holding him back.  He's not just on a quest to find the girl, he needs to find himself. 
Although narrated by Jason with an occasional sprinkling of ambiguous blog posts from The Girl, there's a growing ensemble cast here with characters joining the story and becoming integral to the search for the girl.  Flatmate Dev is the catalyst for developing the pictures but his quiet tolerance of Jason's gloomy gussing ebbing drives him to push Jason onward in the search.  His new friend, Abbey, who helps him discover a hot new band; his old friend, Zoe, who continues to give him work; his ex; and a volatile former student named Matt all help him in his search, recognizing a restaurant, a watch, a destination in London, and help him look into his own heart and grow as he gets closer to the elusive girl meant to be.  But it's not smooth sailing solving the mystery of her identity.  Jason, because he is Jason, bollockses things up quite a bit, drunk Facebooking his ex, alienating Dev, and just generally being an immature git among other things.  But just as in real life, these are speed bumps in the path of striving for maturity and on the way to contentment and the way that Jason handles them shows the ways in which he is changing.
The novel's premise is incredibly intriguing and Wallace has done a nice job with it.  Jason isn't always the most appealing character and there are times the reader wonders if he deserves to find "The Girl."  He is a self-absorbed, pain in the ass whiner a lot of the time but there's something about the idea of fate and his slow growth away from that pitiful, oblivious self-centeredness that keeps the reader in there with him.  There are a ridiculous amount of coincidences, especially in the search, that might stretch credulity but serve to show just how connected we all are in this age of rampant social media.  There are moments of good humor and the pathos of what-ifs.  It's interesting to read a romantic comedy from a guy's perspective and this Hollywood-ready novel delivers not only that but a riff on connection and the importance of it in all of our lives.  The ending is a bit rushed but overall, it's a fun and engrossing read.
Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of the book to review.

1 comment:

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