One Day by David Nicholls centres on the on-off relationship between Emma and Dexter. They first meet up together on 15th July 1988, St Swithin’s Day, while celebrating their graduation from Edinburgh University. Though they had both sort of fancied each other for most of their time at Uni, they never got together until they were about to leave. They never quite managed to have sex on that night either, thought they did agree to keep in touch in the future. And they did. Each subsequent chapter is dated 15th July of the following year and relates what had happened to our two characters over the next 20 years. To begin with they don’t actually meet, but we hear about their lives through their letters. When they do meet up once again they somehow fail to make it together and drift apart again. Eventually they do get it all right and end up living together.
Behind this bald outline there is a wonderful story of how two people try to meet the various challenges of life - finding satisfying work, getting rich, making and keeping friends, achieving something. Part of the success of the book is that Emma and Dexter are completely different people. In what may be an English thing, they come from very different class backgrounds. He is from a rich middle class family who live in the south of England, while she is a northern girl from working class parents in Leeds. Emma is also the bright and intelligent one who achieves a double first while Dexter scrapes a low second. Despite this or perhaps because of Dexter’s connections, it is Dexter who at first makes the most out of developing a successful career. In fact he becomes a famous and rich TV celebrity. Emma on the other hand drifts in and out of low paid and menial jobs before becoming a teacher. However at some point their life trajectories change and it is Emma who becomes a successful writer and Dexter who loses the plot, including his job. It is round about this point when they finally get together.
Along with the two main characters, the novel introduces us to some other wonderful characters, some good, some not so good, some sensible and some pretty weird. All of them, apparently, part and parcel of modern life in London. It is all written with style and verve. It is also very funny at times, thought this is a pretty bittersweet novel. Life is not all a bundle of laughs and prepare yourself for a most unexpected development towards the end of the novel. At least it was most unexpected for me. My only quibble with the novel is that I found it hard to see why Emma would want to remain so much in love with Dexter. True, there is a decent person somewhere within and he does come good in the end. But, most of the time he is a complete shit. Arrogant, self-possessed, shallow and most of all very nasty to almost everyone he meets, including Emma. She on the other hand is attractive, educated, cultured and kind hearted. The only thing she lacks it seems is self-confidence. Just not sure why she continues to find Dexter so worthwhile. One Day has now been made into a film, directed by Lone Scherfig, with Anne Hathaway as Emma and Jim Sturgess as Dexter. It is not due out in cinemas until the autumn, but it will be fascinating to see how they portray Dexter.
This is David Nicholls’ second book. The first, Starter for Ten, dates from 2004. I haven’t read the book, but did see the film version which starred James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall. It is also very good, thoughtful and funny. One Day was first published in 2009. I read the edition published for World Book NIght 2011. This is a charity which once a year gives away thousands of books. My copy of One Day was distributed to our Reading Group by Lorna. So many thanks Lorna for such a great choice. There will be another World Book Night next year and you can read about it here.