The intricate knowledge of Romeo and Juliet displayed in David Nicholls’s latest novel supports my theory that the play was a profound influence on his blockbuster comic weepy One Day, published in 2009. Both One Day and Romeo and Juliet start off as romantic comedies, with the result that when death sunders the star-crossed lovers in the final acts, just when the structure demands that they should be gearing up for the happy ending, you feel it like a cannonball in the solar plexus.
It is an effective but not very sophisticated strategy for overcoming an audience’s emotional defences. Nicholls, like Shakespeare, seems content to have used it only once. His next novel, Us (2014), and now his latest, Sweet Sorrow, are both pointedly melodrama-free and, in an unostentatious way, ultimately more