25.6.12

'One Day' by David Nicholls

'One Day' by David Nicholls was another of my  holiday reads in May, and seeing as this is such a popular book, I presume everyone who's going to read it has read it, so

*spoiler alert.*

Right then.  As everyone will know already, this book is the story of Dexter and Emma, friends who meet on graduation day at Edinburgh University in 1988. We then revisit them on the same day, the 15th July, every year for the next twenty years, and see how their careers, love lives and feelings for each other change and alter with each passing year.

She plucked the cigarette from his mouth. '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.'
'Alright -' She shuffled up the bed, the duvet tucked beneath her armpits. 'You're in this sports car with the roof down in Kensington or Chelsea or one of those places and the amazing thing about this car is it's silent, 'cause all cars'll be silent in, I don't know, what - 2006?'
He scrunched his eyes to do the sum. '2004 -'
'And this car is hovering six inches off the ground down the King's Road and you've got this little paunch tucked under the leather steering wheel like a little pillow and those backless gloves on, thinning hair and no chin. You're a big man in a small car with a tan like a basted turkey -'
'So shall we change the subject then?'

Unfortunately, my darling husband gave away the fact that *spoiler alert* Emma dies before I got to read it, so bereft was he by her sudden death 17(?) years into the 20, so I imagine I read this book quite differently to everyone else as I was just waiting for the rug to be whipped away. I was wary of attachment, shall we say? He had the reaction that you read of in the reviews: big, weepy eyes, clutching book to chest like a loved one, sob. I kinda went, good book, but they're not real!

So anyway, there was a lot that I liked about this book. I thought the one-day structure was inspired, and I'm surprised I haven't come across it before, and I found it very easy reading, although occasionally I felt Nicholls lacked precision and that some bits of dialogue were quite baggy. His characterisation of Dex and Emma was great. Really, really great, actually, and I found myself often identifying with Emma, and it was nice to see some pretty strong aspects of myself on the page. I was definitely a fan of hers rather than his - I felt that he was a pretty unsympathetic character, and I was just waiting for the moment when he took hold of himself and manned up a bit, which didn't really happen at all, which I felt was a shame. Like, yes, he finally gets together with Emma and opens that deli, but he just seemed like one of those superficial guys who just jumps from thing to thing because they have no imagination to imagine their own path in achievable stages, and no backbone to carry any of those stages out. When he got together with Emma, things were better, yes, but the deli was her idea, she seemed to mother him an awful lot, and then after she died he returned to drinking and just reached for the nearest woman to start something new. I was really disappointed with the lack of growth that he showed, and pleased with Emma and how she progressed. But the fact that I'm ranting slightly shows that he affected me, which I guess signals a win for Nicholls :)

The death upset me, but largely because I felt that it changed the book into something that it wasn't, and it undermined all the good feeling that had gone before, especially because she seemed to have little lasting impact on either him or the story. She just dies, it gets a bit messy, and then we all move on. I felt this was Emma's story rather than Dexter's, so I felt Nicholls betrayed her by killing her for emotional effect. And I felt pretty manipulated - I know you can't foreshadow an accident without giving it away, but it made me wonder if he'd looking back on what he'd written in the 16 years prior and felt that it wasn't gritty enough, or whether he felt that he needed to balance the light with a bit more shade. I never felt that this was a tragic romance, as some are, and so to me the death felt forced and a bit false.

There's a lot of life in this book though, and parts of it are very, very funny indeed. I can see why it was so popular and gut-wrenching for many, and I am a little disappointed that I can't be another devotee, salivating in anticipation of his next work. I enjoyed it, though.

Title: One Day
Author: David Nicholls
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Date: 2009
Format: Paperback, 435 pages, and it was a gift.


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