Mixed emotions…a review of One Day by David Nicholls.

“This is where it all begins. Everything starts here, today.

And then it was over.” 

One Day, David Nicholls.

First of all, I feel it incumbent upon me to confess that I finished this book a few days ago and have not found the time to write my review until now; however, something rather strange has happened in the days following my finishing the book. Whilst reading One Day I was totally and completely hooked, unable to put it down – it was a definite hit. Upon reflection over the last few days, however, my love and enthusiasm for this book has undergone something of a transformation and I find myself, to my dismay, rather angry with the book and its characters.

The story follows two protagonists: Emma and Dexter, we are first introduced to them on 15th July 1988 – the day following their graduation – and consequently on every July 15th for the next twenty years. Nicholls only allows us these annual glimpses of where the characters are and I have to say, it’s a brilliant literary device. By only allowing us to view Emma and Dexter once a year, Nicholls is able to avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae of their everyday lives and, instead, the reader is able to focus on where their relationship is, what they want from their lives and how they alter as people.

As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed reading One Day and found it to be a very rewarding and engaging story…but what about the aforementioned anger? I hear you say. Well. I don’t think my anger at One Day is particularly rational or, indeed, coherent, so forgive me if I sound a little crazy. The story is very much concerned with the experiences of coming-of-age in 90s Britain and the challenges faced by both men and women during their formative years. Nicholls is clearly a talented writer with great insight into his topic, so it’s not the writing or the subject which I have an issue with. I think…I think it is the characters. The more I reflect on One Day the more I become convinced that I don’t like either Emma or Dexter, that they’re not very nice people and that they make blindingly bad decisions and….(rant reaches its climax)…waste their very promising lives.

The more I consider Emma and Dexter the more infuriated and angry I become. Even while reading, I was pretty convinced that Dexter was a bit of a twerp, but Emma…I so desperately wanted to like her and relate to her, that I think I allowed myself to be blind to some gaping flaws in her character. With hindsight though, I am not altogether sure Emma is a particularly nice or inspiring heroine either. She’s so confident when it comes to so many things, and yet she wastes years of her life in a dead-end job, trollops around with her boss and spends her life waiting for idiot-Dexter to realise he loves her – thus sacrificing her chance of ever having a child (a chance which the unworthy Dexter is granted and makes a right royal cock-up of). This is surely how to spend your twenties if you want to mess up the rest of your life. And maybe that’s what worries me…I am, after-all, mid-twenties and the idea of my life going down the pan like theirs is more than a little terrifying. Perhaps I am reassuring myself that this could never happen to me by convincing myself that Emma and Dexter are stupid and reckless. Who knows.

I won’t spoil the story’s ending, but suffice to say that I think there’s a pretty sizable warning in there for the current mid-twenties generation, like me. This is not the way to live the beginning of your life if you want something left to cherish at the end. Don‘t lose sight of your priorities, don’t drag your feet and, above all, don’t waste the days you’re given. One Day also raises some pretty hefty questions about love….What is worth waiting for?…What are you hiding from yourself?…When should you give up?…Is this love healthy?…Where will this love take you?…What is it costing you?…And will it last? Makes Mastermind look easy, doesn’t it?

I would recommend One Day, it’s well written, well paced, and well deserving of the praise it has received. After all, I’d sooner read a book that I couldn’t put down even though it left me fuming than plod through a book that bored me to tears.

“She always had the feeling that it was very, very, dangerous to live even one day.”

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf.

What to read next? Back to one of my favourite authors this time, Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf.

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11 Comments

Filed under 21st century, Books, David Nicholls, Fiction, Novel

11 responses to “Mixed emotions…a review of One Day by David Nicholls.

  1. I just finished reading One Day, and while I think your review makes some excellent points, I’m less bothered by how the characters live out their twenties. I think alot of people grow up during their twenties if their personalities or life outlook is fundamentally different than those of their parents (or other significant adults they knew in childhoood), and this sort of growing up means trying on lots of models of adulthood until you find one that fits. If you choose well the first time, of course, then your life path goes more smoothly, but I liked this novel for the hope it gives those who don’t choose well at first. I think the anger you expressed mirrors that of Dexter’s father, which is fairly typical, I think, when you love someone who makes a series of bad decisions. Personally, I wish that the novel allowed us to see Emma and Dexter into middle adulthood, so we could see if the apparently good decisions they made near the end worked out for them in the long run.

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  2. I definitely think Starter For Ten by David Nicholls was far better than One Day. Just thought the flow for One Day was a bit stilted. Loved the premise of it and the time span, but not his best.

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  3. Really enjoyed your review! And I have to say…I had exactly the same experience as you with the book. I really enjoyed it as I was reading it, and then the end came and I had kind of mixed feelings about it once it was over. I haven’t been able to see the movie adaption yet, I’ve heard rather bleak things about it, but I’m still curious!

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  4. Great review! We’re reading One Day in my book club this month and there was some discussion as to whether we thought it would be a good read. The premise seems to be one where it could either be really good or really bad. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the book and will maybe pop by once I’ve finished it to comment again.

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  5. I really,really enjoyed One Day, and just like you I immediately decided Dexter was kind of a jerk, but I wanted to like Emma so badly, but eventually I just couldn’t, still loved the book though 🙂

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  6. This is on my list to read. I’m especially interested to read the interesting perspective of brief glimpses each year. It is a really cool way to watch character growth. Thanks for the review!

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