Book Review: One Day by David Nicholls

One Day by David NichollsI have resisted reading this book for a long time.  Published in 2009, it has been surrounded by hype and gushing reviews since it came out, and when the film of the same name was released in 2011 it only served to strengthen its place as a “Modern Classic”.  I’d see the eye-catching orange cover everywhere: it seemed that everyone loved it.

These sorts of books – offerings from authors who, as far as I am concerned, are unknown to me and therefore risks – fill me with suspicion.  Sometimes they do sound interesting, but I hate the let-down of discovering a “must-read” novel is actually good but not great.

Prior to reading it, this book didn’t really appeal to me at all; I’d glanced at the blurb on the back cover and wasn’t particularly inspired.  Boy meets girl, there’s a spark but for one reason or another they don’t get together, then somewhere down the line they realise what a perfect couple they’d make, and they live happily ever after.  Jane Austen was a master at this formula, but it’s been repeated over and over to both good and bad effect.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m partial to a love story if it’s balanced by the main plot, but One Day just sounded like yet another romance for the masses.

And then someone bought me the book for my birthday.  Well, I can’t turn a free book away unread, especially not if it’s a gift, so after reading Room, I thought it would be a quick, light read.

What did I find?  I found that in part it is a romance for the masses, and I’m sure that this goes some way towards accounting for the novel’s success.  But it’s also much, much more than this.  It’s well-written and the characters are genuine.  Neither Emma nor Dexter, the main protagonists, are perfect: both can be stubborn and even irritating, yet are also funny and vulnerable.  I warmed to both and was rooting for them throughout, despite Emma’s occasional nagging and Dexter’s immaturity.

The structure of the novel is also very clever.  We first meet these characters on 15th July 1988, the day of their graduation from university.  There is an obvious attraction between the two, but we are only permitted an enticing glimpse into their lives.  We want to know more, and yet in the next chapter we are suddenly transported to 15th July 1989: exactly a year later.

Again, we are shown a small slice of their lives: while Emma is in England trying to figure out where her career should take her, Dexter is travelling in India.  We read their letters, both posted and unposted, full of naivety and yearning and the potential of what could become love.  And then we jump forward by another year, and then another year, and we progress in this way throughout the novel.  The years pass, the characters grow and develop, and we follow their ups and downs.

This device allows us to become well acquainted with Emma and Dexter, but so much is left unsaid about the time which passes between each chapter.  Nicholls gently guides his readers through the novel, but invites them to fill in the gaps in their own way; he says just enough to explain everything we need to supply the rest.

The ending of One Day is also not at all what I expected… but I’ll say no more than that.  If you haven’t yet succumbed to reading the novel, I’d urge you to give it a try.  The novel provides a touching escape from reality, and I loved it.

What did you think of it?  Did you resist the novel at first too, or was it just me being pig-headed?  Or has there been another novel which you kept putting off, and which is now much loved?  I recently saw a blog post about unwanted reading recommendations (from The Bookshelf of Emily J.), which had inspired a lot of comments from people who had received both brilliant and terrible recommendations.  Take a look – you might even find something you want to try!


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vince
    May 31, 2012 @ 09:41:34

    My friend, Edward, had a very similar experience to you with this book. I guess once a book reaches a certain level of popularity it becomes difficult to believe it can be any good. Between the two of you, you’ve definitely made me want to read it.

    I put off (and put off and put off) reading The Life of Pi for similar reasons. When I got round to reading it I was sceptical for much of its duration. Then, when I finally came to the end, I realised it was awesome.

    Bad recommendations: Probably the worst book I’ve ever read is “5 People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom (It’s a toss-up between that and “4 Blondes” by Cadnace Bushnell. It’ll be a while before I read anything with a number in the title again).

    I got Albom’s book from my Mum for Christmas along with two books which were actually great (one of those was Life of Pi). It is horrible in all sorts of ways, but the worst thing is that it’s a “message book” containing no meaningful ideas whatsoever. It’s built on the kind of faux nieve cod-spiritual optismism of the worst type of American film. As if the makers of “It’s a Wonderful Life” were actually alcoholic nihilists out to make a fast buck. All the time the writer is telling you “Everything happens for a reason. It’s all gonna be OK,” but you know that there’s no kind of world-view behind this, it’s just a shtick designed to sell his bullshit books to people who want to feel less empty inside. It was a profoundly depressing read.

    Anyway, I liked your review!



    • TheBrontëSister
      Jun 04, 2012 @ 19:48:22

      I’m glad it wasn’t just me – like I said, I was totally caught off-guard with this one, and I wasn’t expecting to like it so much. I’ve never read The Life of Pi. But awesome is a good recommendation so I might have to put it on my list!

      I’ve picked up and put back down “5 People You Meet In Heaven” having read the back… I just wasn’t sure enough about it. It sounds like I had a lucky escape!


  2. Marthe
    May 31, 2012 @ 18:49:25

    People don`t usually recommend books to me, or maybe I don`t listen when they do. I`m going to have a look at the blog you recommended for some good/bad recommendations – thanks for the tip! My own rec to all readers here: Ken Kesey`s Sailor Song. I`m not posting a review here but it is GREAT.
    Thanks for blogging BrontëSister!


  3. Trackback: Book Review: Castles In The Air by Judy Corbett « TheBrontëSister
  4. thewordsarechasingme
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 23:13:50

    Like yourself, I am suspicious of recommendations from people. I am also usually deeply sceptical of anything that is hailed as a best-seller, then made into a film very fast. Having read Starter for Ten, a few years ago, I was half repapered for this output ( I can’t bring myself to call it a novel). What struck me, was that it was written , as a novel waiting to be made into a film, and it was horribly formulaic.


    • TheBrontëSister
      Jul 29, 2012 @ 15:31:18

      It’s sad having to be sceptical, but there are so many books out there which are raved about and hyped up so much that if you approached them all expecting to be wowed, you’d be constantly disappointed. What I love is when you’re expecting to like a book and you end up loving a book.

      Luckily I didn’t feel the same as you did about this book. I can see exactly what you mean and can see why you had that reaction, however I didn’t experience any of that while I was reading it. I haven’t read for Starter for Ten, but perhaps you also approached One Day with your reaction to his earlier book in mind?

      Love your blog name by the way!


    • Vince Stephen
      Jul 30, 2012 @ 11:18:51

      That’s an interesting view, since almost every review of the movie I read (or heard on the radio) made the case that it was a failure because the structure of the book, whilst appropriate for a novel, made the narrative unfilmable.


  5. thewordsarechasingme
    Aug 11, 2012 @ 20:13:36

    Thanks 🙂 It seemed a fitting name for the sheer volume of books I somehow seemed to have acquired. Personally, I think there are certain books out there that have been written with the view to it possibly, ending up on the big screen.
    Starter for 10, was in fairness, not a bad book. It wasn’t up there as a book I’d reread happily over and over, it was amusing for a few hours.


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