‘One Day’ written by David Nicholls is a funny, moving and honest account of a close friendship. Emma and Dexter share a romantic encounter on July 15th in 1988 (St Swithen’s Day) and it is this date that the novel centralises itself to, sharing both their lives on this same date every year for twenty years. The novel has been so successful that it has been translated into 31 different languages and has now been made into a film starring Anne Hathway.
The novel follows the lives of Emma and Dexter after they graduate when Dexter is propelled into the high-life after two gap yah’s and Emma is still pining after a career in Publishing but in reality is left waitressing in a ‘tex-mex’ restaurant. They are set on just being friends even though it is clear that there is and always will be something special between them both. Even though their lives are only told through one day with a year in between their characterisation that Nicholls does so well allows the reader to imagine the journey in between. There is no doubt that the book will have you laughing out loud throughout and wiping away a tear at the end. It is the way in which Nicholls pin points the humour that is relevant to all of us, for example Dexter wants: “to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph,” whilst some of us see ourselves in Emma’s shoes, in a dead end job longing for something else. In my opinion, because it is written so honestly it really resonates with the reader and gives us something special to be a part of.
The unusual structural device is extremely effective in telling these two lives. Only telling stories from a specific day opens up the spontaneity of the writing and it keeps the reader gripped because there is a huge gap from one snapshot to the other. The device provides a brilliant way of telling twenty years worth of life in a novel format and without the reader sinking reading mundane daily routine. It provides wonderful snapshots of their life and then just as you’re engaged in one small incident in Emma’s life the chapter ends and you are soon engrossed in another incident happening to Dexter; forgetting all about Emma. It is this device that keeps the reader turning pages at such a fast pace. Marrying this device with a narrative that Nicholls adopts is what makes the novel so compelling. The narrative makes you feel as though you are friends with Emma and Dexter as it is written in a way that everyone can relate to: “I can imagine you at forty, I can picture it right now. / 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.” It is very relatable and the humour comes at the end to really clarify the image that Nicholls wants you to conjure up in your mind.
Many people would at a first glance assume that this book is for the female reader – a typical ‘boy meets girl’ scenario but Nicholls opens it up to both sexes. There is a widely held view amongst literature that women like romance and men like jokes and banter and in ‘One Day’ you get both that appeal equally to men and women. Even the romantic side of the story is appealing to men, it’s not gushing and over the top but Nicholls handles it in a way that is friendly to both readers. When a story from Dexter’s life is being told the language is manipulated into a way in which the character would tell it: “I’m not scared of her, I’m just not going to do it so that we can say that we’ve done it. And I’m not going to do it if the first thing you say afterwards is “please don’t tell anyone” or “let’s forget it ever happened”. If you have to keep something secret it’s because you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place!” This contrasts well to when Emma is to the point and abrupt: “You were trying to fit her entire head in your mouth. People have enough trouble keeping their food down as it is.” The transition between both perspectives is flawless as well and you don’t even notice the exchange when you’re reading.
So if you haven’t read it yet, I strongly recommend you do. It’s funny, moving and relevant and is sure to leave you (hopefully) with the urge to tell everyone to read it and join the phenomenon.