One Day, by David Nicholls, has received a lot of buzz lately because of its upcoming movie incarnation starring Anne Hathaway. But regardless of the success or failure of the movie, this book deserves acclaim all on its own.
The novel follows Dexter and Emma from 1988 to 2007. Each July 15th, the reader gets to see what they are doing and how they feel about each other. The story opens with a one night stand after graduation. Dexter expects to never see Emma again and Emma knows it. But somehow the awkwardness of the “morning-after” develops into a whole day together, and from that point onward, Dexter and Emma are intrinsically linked.
The plot sounds predictable. But Mr. Nicholls has done something amazing by taking what should be a familiar story and turning it completely on its head. Things never go quite the way the reader thinks that they will. Instead, they resonate with the unexpectedness of real life.
Young writers often hear “write what you know.” The reader could expect Mr. Nicholls to write well about men, middle-aged men to be exact. And while he eloquently gives voice to the older Dexter, he equally excels at portraying Emma fresh out of university, with no idea what to do the next day.
“‘Just the whole of our lives, stretching ahead of us,’ she said…feeling a ripple of anxiety pass across her shoulders at the thought of it: independent adult life. She didn’t feel like an adult. She was in no way prepared. It was as if a fire alarm had gone off in the middle of the night and she was standing on the street with her clothes bundled up in her arms. If she wasn’t learning, what was she doing? How would she fill the days? She had no idea.”
Mr. Nicholls captures each stage of life perfectly as Dexter and Emma move in opposite directions. Dexter finds success early in life, only to learn that fame and fortune are fleeting. “To have had fame, even very minor fame, and to have lost it, got older and maybe put on a little weight is a kind of living death,” he muses. Emma, on the other hand, spends many years flitting from one job to another before finding her place.
The wonderful thing about picking the same day each year to meet Emma and Dexter is that the book is not bogged down by major events. We don’t get to read about weddings, funerals, or Emma and Dexter’s graduation ceremony. But everything is revealed about the characters through the little moments, the moments in between.
One Day is a beautiful story of the love between two best friends, but it is more than that. This is the book for every student who graduates from college with no idea what they are going to do with their lives, for the man who has to deal with unexpected loss, for the woman who has to rearrange her life yet again. Emma and Dexter are beautifully real characters – they will frustrate you to no end, but you will cheer at their triumphs and read along with bated breath as they attempt to figure out where they fit in each other’s lives. Go out and get One Day and remember what it is like to read a book you truly can’t put down.
By David Nicholls