Nicholls displays such a dazzling and intricate understanding of human relationships, it’s hard not to be swept away in this beautifully told story.
One Day seems to be one of those books that despite dividing opinions, and being around for a couple of years, is still hot on everyone’s lips. Just the other day I was in a lift when someone noticed me reading it and started professing just how wonderful it was and how much they loved it, that never happens! But why has this book caused such a stir? Why is it that bookoholic’s who normally struggle to find a book in common are suddenly praising the same book? I wasn’t sure I would find myself getting swept up in the One Day craze and even after the first few chapters I was still a little skeptical, but very soon I found myself under David Nicholls spell.
The book opens up on St Swithun’s Day in 1988, Emma and Dexter are experiencing, in the harsh light of day, the awkward moment of the morning after the night before. The night before at their graduation celebrations the two finally got together much to Emma’s pleasure as she has admired him from a far. Dexter on the other hand isn’t new to this situation and as the alcohol starts to wear off and self consciousness kicks in they are both left feeling awkward and unsure. Usually the ‘leave before she wakes up’ type, Dexter contemplates making his escape, and the defensive and cagey Emma is left torn between playing it cool and asking Dexter to meet up again. Their relationship seems precarious from the off set but some spark clearly ignites between them and from this uncertain start we then follow both characters as they grow up together and apart; and we the reader meet them on the same day each year for the next twenty years.
What happens on each of those days and the time in between is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, sometimes leaving us full of hope and other times leave us wringing our hands in despair. Nicholls explores and demonstrates with scarily accurate precision the unpredictable, surprising and sometimes ironic hand that life can deal us. He also captures perfectly that ‘how will my life pan out’ ‘what is my place in the world’ feeling that we all experience in our youth. His voices speaks loudly about the usually hushed up feelings of anxiety and uncertainty of what and who we will become, what life has in store for us.
Emma, an idealist with a need to change the world, or if not the world ‘the bit around her’, lives in a permanent state of these emotions. Determined to be something great, terrified that she wont, she lives her life in constant search of these answers. Dexter on the other hand silences his worries when he finds himself working successfully as a TV presenter, his charismatic, carefree and handsome demeanor propelling him to the popularity he enjoys.
But despite their seemingly different places in life and their uncertain start Dexter and Emma forge together a friendship of strength and endurance and together they share both their exhilarations and the disappointments that life throws at them. But like any friendship there are times when life seems to pit them against each other and although I don’t want to give the story away, I must say there were times when Nicholls heartbreaking precision of their relationship was devastating to read.
Yet in the mist of Emma’s and Dexter’s friendship there always lingers that illustrious night they spent together way back when, and the glimmer of hope never quite dies; ‘one day’ will they get together?
Needless to say this novel will keep you gripped, and just when you might think you’ve figured it all out, like Emma and Dexter you will be shockingly reminded that life isn’t always that easy to predict. Even when you think your on a straight path you can turn a corner and end up somewhere completely different.
So why has this book touched so many people? What’s the reason behind it’s success? After all the story is quite simply told, there’s no poetic prose, fanciful imagery; it really is just a marvelously told story that is precisely true to life. And maybe that is the very reason for the books success? Nicholls refrains from bogging his work down with over complicated language, although the novel is written with plenty of wit and intelligence. Instead his simplistic style for me really allowed his characters to breathe, it allowed them the space to move, grow and really come to life.
And off course one of the most spell binding qualities of the book is the relationship between Emma and Dexter. There’s something about how intricately detailed and well thought out their characterization is that makes it so easy to engage with them. Within the first few chapters I felt I knew them intimately, their hopes, their fears, their family lives, their confused feelings for one another. And this was all done so subtly in such a simple and easy style that I was quite shocked when putting the book down for a break only to realize how well I felt connected to them. By the time I had reached the last page it seemed impossible that these two people didn’t really exists.
Towards the end of the book I was also struck by how keenly Nicholls understands human nature, relationships and life itself. I thought Nicholls masterfully captured that feeling of starting out life not knowing where it will take us and then detailing all of the emotions in between, then leading us to a retrospective ending of how we can never really predict or even control the panning out of our lives. How, if we are to look back like Emma and Dexter some twenty years on we might be just a little amused at lifes sense of humor.
I wish there were more books like this that told such a wonderful story whilst leaving me musing for quite sometime to come my own views on life and love. Now off course I must diligently seek out more David Nicholl’s books in the hope of capturing the same magic of One Day. Have you read this book? What did you think? Were you as swept away as me or perhaps you didn’t enjoy? Also could you recommend any of other books by Nicholls given that I’m now a new convert?