Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls (Yes, finally…)

Date finished: 31 May 2011

Rating: 4.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought from WHSmith

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Published: by Hodder Paperback in February 2010


The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

‘I can imagine you at forty,’ she said, a hint of malice in her voice. ‘I can picture it right now.’ He smiled without opening his eyes. ‘Go on then.’ 15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways.

So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY.

The Review

Simply put, I loved this book.

When I first read about the premise, I was intrigued to see how it would work as a way of telling a story. It could have resulted in a novel that just didn’t flow properly. Chapters could have spent too much time simply recounting the events of the past year and not enough time with the characters in their various presents. In lesser hands, it could have been a gimicky disaster.

I needn’t have worried.

Each chapter contains just the right balance between catching up and settling back into easy dialogue and feels just like meeting up with a friend you haven’t seen in a year: filling in all the details you’ve missed and getting to know them again and seeing if and how they’ve changed. If you’re unlucky, you’ll realise how far apart you’re experiences have moved you; if you’re lucky, you’ll find that whatever made you friends in the first place is still there.

As you’ll no doubt have gathered, the characters are fundamental to the charm of this book. Emma and Dexter meet at university and finally spend one night together on the 15th of July 1988, the night before wending their way off into the great wide world.

Emma reminded me a lot of the people I knew at university (one of whom, incidentally, is now my co-habitee boyfriend…): she’s politically idealistic and believes that, if you can’t change the world, you should at least change the little bit around you; she’s bookish and intelligent; she has dreams but knows how vulnerable they are and worries about the future; and, most importantly, she believes that the same could be true of Dexter.

Dexter reminded me a lot of the people I tried to avoid at university: he’s rich and somewhat blase about making a meaningful contribution to wider society; he’s intelligent but lazy and happy to rely largely on his good looks and charm; he would have dreams but can’t figure out what to hope for in case he is judged for choosing the wrong thing or fails in some way; but, most importantly, he believes in Emma.

The characters develop very consistently and ‘age’ realistically. The dialogue is pitch perfect all the way through and really, truly funny. Like any friendship spanning twenty years (I would imagine…I’m only 24 so I’m guessing a little…), there are ups and downs and there were some chapters I was utterly in love with Dexter and others I would have quite happily slapped him round the face. Most of the time, I respected Emma but there were occasions when I just wanted to kick her up the…well, you know!

What more can I say? I really did love this book.

Overall: I’ve recommended this book to a lot of different people since I finished it and, had I bought a paperback copy, would be lining people up to borrow it! Occasionally, it made me stop and think “Hmm..where was I a year ago?” and “Where will I be next year?” (but not in the scary interview way!). It made me laugh a lot and it made me cry a lot. Read it.