Thursday, 24 November 2011

'One Day' by David Nicholls (2009)

Synopsis: Dexter Mayhew (a middle-class boy from Oxfordshire) and Emma Morley (a working-class girl from Yorkshire) are two students at Edinburgh University. They meet on the night of their graduation - the 15th of July 1988. They almost have sex but decide to stay in touch and become friends instead. The book then shows how Dexter and Emma's lives change and how their friendship develops over the next 20 years - by showing where they are on various July 15ths. Some days Dexter and Emma are together and some days they're apart. Dexter leaves Uni and does really well at first. He goes off travelling in Europe and Asia, moves to London, and lands himself a job as a TV Presenter. However, his shows are terrible and he ends up succumbing to women, drugs and alcohol. Emma, on the other hand, spends the next few years after Uni working at a crappy Tex-Mex restaurant in London before becoming an English teacher at a comprehensive school - and then becoming a successful children's author.

I'm still surprised that it's taken me so long to get round to reading one of David Nicholl's novels. I've seen the adaptation of his book Starter for Ten. I've seen his adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles (the BBC version with Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne). I've seen the One Day movie. Since I've seen it on so many '3for2' tables at Waterstone's and have read so many rave reviews about it, I thought that if I only read one of Nicholl's books it should probably read One Day. Now that I've read it I have to say I'm a bit surprised the reviews for it have been so glowing. Don't get me wrong! One Day isn't a bad book at all. In fact I'd say it's good, it's just not that good!

I'll get my positives out of the way first. The whole one-day format is genuinely clever and as far as I know original. I'm pretty sure that loads of writers out there must have been kicking themselves when this book came out (What a great idea! Why couldn't I have written this book?!) One Day is also well-paced and Nicholls is obviously a talented writer with a great knack for dialogue. I loved all the amusing banter between Emma and Dexter and there are some great moments in the first half of the book that I enjoyed: Dexter's very amusing and touching letter to Emma from India, Emma and Dexter's holiday to Greece, the school production of Oliver! These sections all put a smile on my face. Another reason why I particularly liked the opening section was because the characters are both still in their 20s at this point and I could actually relate to them because I'm of the appropriate age.

So where did the book fall short for me? Well, initially I really liked Dexter and Emma and I was really rooting for them to get together. However, the characters began to get on my nerves more and more and when I was around the halfway point I thought "You know what? I've stopped liking these people" Dexter and Emma are both flawed and I think this was Nicholl's intention but after a while I just found them annoying. The characters stopped having amusing banter with each other about halfway through and their conversations became increasingly bitter and nasty. So the thing that I liked most about their book, their amusing banter, was gone. Then Dexter and Emma stop speaking for a number of years and - although the 'Are You There, Moriarty?' game that Dexter is forced to play with his girlfriend Sylvie and her family is hilarious - I was finding the book a chore. Things improved when Dexter and Emma became friends again but then they became a romantic couple. You'd think I would have been pretty pleased after all that build-up but then the book carries on and if they'd had any passion or romantic intrigue or sexual tension between them before then that went out the window. Most romance novels end when their couples get together and I think I understand why. And as for the ending, well, I think it was supposed to pull on your heartstrings but I didn't even care that much. Even in the movie I didn't care all that much when Emma died and I really like Anne Hathaway. Does that make me heartless? I don't think so. 

Basically I do think One Day is a good book because it's often funny and entertaining but it has flaws too and isn't perfect by any stretch. I think I liked the movie more than the book simply because I really liked some of the actors in it but only slightly more. The One Day book is still miles better than The Time Traveller's Wife though (now THERE'S an overrated book!) because at least it's not too long and the characters are comparatively likeable. At least I didn't want to bitchslap Emma and Dexter like I did with most of the characters in that book!

Rating: 3/5

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