Gartside’s debut novel, published last year, hews very close to the territory David Nicholls covered in One Day. Since that novel is so ubiquitous and very much beloved of many many people, it takes a brave author indeed to try and tell a similar story.
Graham Melton, working class through and through, meets posh girl Charlotte at a party when they’re both teenagers. It’s love at first sight, with all the attendant issues that come from a class divide relationship. The novel adopts a back and forth structure, alternating chapters which chart Graham and Charlotte’s relationship with the present day Graham and his 15 year old son Michael. Only Charlotte isn’t there. So where is she?
Charlotte’s fate is made a little too obvious in a fairly early chapter of the book and part of me wondered if the novel would not have benefited from a more straightforward chronological structure. As it is, the impact is somewhat lessened, and the interest in their early relationship begins to wane.
Graham’s struggle in his post-Charlotte life and his teenage son’s own tribulations with his burgeoning love life are much more interesting. Michael is a highly believable teenage creation, as frustrating to read as he is enjoyable. His meddling in his father’s life is sweet and amusing. There is a whole lot of cliché going on though, right down to the “family member mistaken for secret lover and causing trouble” old chestnut. Most of the supporting characters are pure stereotype (especially Graham’s lifelong hapless friend, Billy), but there’s enough here to engage and when things take a turn for the darker, we even start to head towards (though never quite into) unputdownable territory. So, as debuts go, this is solid stuff, but not at all groundbreaking. One Day casts a long shadow and it’s one that Gartside doesn’t quite get out from under.