One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage Contemporaries, $14.95, 448 pages)
Twenty years. Two people. ONE DAY
“(She was) unable to recall a time when she felt happier.”
“…he is more or less where he wants to be… Everything will be fine, just as long as nothing ever changes.”
Sometimes we need to wait until the right time to read a particular book. I received a review copy of this novel, which had already become the #1 bestselling book in England and throughout most of Europe, in early 2010 (it was released in trade paper form in the U.S. on June 15, 2010). But it didn’t strike me as something that urgently needed to be read… That is, until I read that Anne Hathaway had agreed to play the female lead in the upcoming film version, with Jim Sturgess as the male lead. Knowing that Hathaway has a skill for finding great scripts, I felt that the time had come.
This is the story of two people, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, who meet cute on their graduation night (called “university graduation” in England) and spend the entire evening together. They plan to commence a sexual relationship the next day; a plan which is forsaken due to some unexpected circumstances – something unexplained until the later pages of the story. So, instead, they vow to be friends. Dexter is to become Emma’s true male friend, but not boyfriend.
Nicholls tells the story, a very remarkable love story, by having us look in on the happenings of Emma’s and Dexter’s lives on the same date – July 15th – of each year. The story begins on July 15, 1988, and concludes on July 15, 2007. No spoiler alert is needed here, as no details will be revealed about what occurs to Emma and Dexter over the decades. Let’s just say that the reader will be surprised.
I don’t want to play coy, so I will state that this is likely the best pure love story that I have read – it’s a tale that tugs at our heartstrings even while it makes us laugh. And it will definitely bring tears prior to its dramatic and life-affirming ending. It’s all the more remarkable that Nicholls, a man, writes with such a huge heart about life and love.
What can be revealed is that Emma and Dexter, despite their class differences (Dexter was born wealthy, Emma lower-middle class), know that they would be perfect for each other… Maybe. But each one faces too many temptations in the form of other people, and each thinks that the other wants different things out of life. So despite their vow to be close forever, they begin to slide away from each other as they encounter life’s often not-so-gentle surprises.
“Everyone likes me. It’s my curse.”
A few cautions… Please disregard those who compare One Day to When Harry Met Sally (“Can a man and woman be best friends?”). One Day is more adult and serious, and English humor is quite distinct from American humor; to me, it is, thankfully, more subtle. That comparison caused me to hold off on reading this novel, which was unfortunate. And if Dexter’s personality, early on, sounds a bit like Dudley Moore’s over-the-top character in the film Arthur, don’t worry, it will pass. Dexter matures with age.
“…I can barely hear the compilation tape you made me which I like a lot incidentally except for that jangly indie stuff because after all I’m not a GIRL.”
There are many references to period music in the telling, which is both positive and not so positive. (Emma can spend an entire day making the right mix tape.) References to songs like “Tainted Love” make one smile; however, the numerous references to Madonna’s music wind up becoming painful in their datedness.
This is a novel that is stunning – so much so that on finishing it, I was both eager and fearful of reading it again one day. (My response was to purchase the unabridged audiobook version, so that it’s there on the shelf if and when the urge strikes me to revisit it.) This is simply a great story about two people who must decide which is better or worse: the fear of confronting happiness, or the fear of never actually encountering it. The message it delivers is a gift. Please consider taking it.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable.” Nick Hornby “A totally brilliant book… Every reader will fall in love with it.” Tony Parsons “A wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate…” The Times (London)
“One of the most hilarious and emotionally riveting love stories you’ll ever encounter.” People
Note: The film version of One Day will be released on August 19, 2011.