Trin's Reviews > One Day

One Day by David Nicholls
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's review
Jun 29, 10

bookshelves: fiction, english-lit
Read in June, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Let's talk about death. Not death which is inevitably part of life, but death in fiction, where it is not inevitable at all. Death in fiction is a deliberate, well-thought out decision: the writer is God, and he or she is choosing, for whatever reason, to Strike This Character Down.

There are good fictional deaths, and ones which feel cheap. This book lost me for good because it contains a death that felt exactly like the hand of God reaching down: Oh, thought the writer-god, I don't really know how to end this but I know that an element of tragedy will make this novel seem super deep. Die, character, die! This did not seem like a senseless death of that type that in real life is imbued with honest tragedy. It felt like an author scrambling for a final act, and not being brave enough to let his characters simply face the rest of their lives together. To die might be a very great adventure, as Peter Pan says, but Peter Pan is an eternal child. Isn't this book supposed to be about growing up? Isn't the greatest adventure simply living?

But let's stay with youthful mistakes for a minute. You see, the thing is: I wrote this novel. I don't say this out of jealousy—“It should be me with this bestseller, me with a movie deal and Nick Hornby praising me on his blog!” No. Not that I wouldn't like all of those things one day—I totally would—but the novel I wrote, which shares a freakish number of similar elements with this one, sucked. I mean, it really stank. This novel, it must also be noted, is much, much better than mine was: the prose is an improvement over mine at the time (I was 20 or 21), and I'm pretty damn sure that this book is more realistic, and more consistently funny and emotionally engaging, than my juvenile effort. However, there are definite and bizarre similarities: both books are about a friendship between a man and a woman over a long stretch of time, beginning in the ’80s; both are about struggling to strike a balance between financial solvency and artistic integrity; both star a character named Em (really, it's eerie); and both feature a tragic bicycle accident. It's the tragic bicycle accident that really gets me. I saw the one in One Day coming from miles away, and approached it with increasing incredulity. Because I had done the tragic bicycle accident, in the shitty novel I wrote when I was 20, and it was dumb then and it is dumb now. It's the hand of the author coming down and going, “Look! Look! I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU CRY GODDAMMIT.”

Since none of you has read my novel (thank god), this comparison lacks something. So allow me to make another one. This involves yet another embarrassing confession: I really, really like the movie City of Angels. Yes, the one with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan: completely honestly, I do. I also love the movie it was based on, Wings of Desire. I remember at some point discussing our mutual appreciation for these two films with my mother. Which did we prefer? I know I hesitated, because as much as I love Wings of Desire, I also think it drags at certain points—that long, lengthy speech in the bar at the end! What's that about? City of Angels, though...

Here my mom stepped in, definitive. She liked Wings of Desire better, because of the crucial difference in the movies' endings. See, in Wings of Desire, the angel falls, finds the woman he loves, there is a pretentious speech in a bar, and then they just...go on living. That's the ending: they must face the consequences of living. In City of Angels, on the other hand, the angel falls, finds the woman he loves, and then the very next morning...she dies. IN A FREAKIN' TRAGIC BICYCLE ACCIDENT. Seriously, what gives? Are we all just a bunch of scarred Nico fans inside? Is this a public safety announcement of some kind? “Kids! Wear a helmet—or your death may facilitate the important, if sadly belated, epiphanies of your loved ones!”

No, but quite honestly, I think my mom was right that the bolder, braver ending can sometimes be the one that's not about GRAND TRAGEDY, but that's simply about the everyday struggle and joy of living. How is that not an equally valid story to tell? The fact that David Nicholls seemed to do everything in his power to ultimately avoid telling it really frustrated me. This novel definitely has its charm: it's snarky and English; its central device is clever; its depiction of feeling lost and aimless in your twenties seemed spot-on. But—in part because of its clever format—too many of this story's important moments happened off-stage, and the—one is led to believe—central event of its two protagonists finally, finally falling in love is downplayed horribly so that—dun dun dun—the tragic bicycle accident can occur several chapters later. I felt cheated and manipulated, frankly, having slogged through 300 pages of the male lead behaving like an utter ass while not a lot of other stuff happened—all that, for this? And sure, one could argue that that sense of disappointment is realistic to life. But I would counter that it doesn't make for very good fiction.

Neither does the fact that this book has more endings padding out its already hefty page count than The Return of the King. You'd already lost me with the tragic bicycle accident, dude, can we just wrap this up already? Your internet profile was enthralling, but on a one-to-one level it just isn't working. Let's split the check and go our separate ways. Maybe in ten years' time I'll look back on this and laugh; in twenty I'll have forgotten your name.
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Rhi (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rhi i loved this review so much i didn't bother writing my own, i just linked to yours.
other than the city of angels love. you're on your own there.

Trin Haha. That seems fair!

message 3: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I'm totally with your mom on this one, Trin.

Trin She tends to be right about most things. Don't tell her I said that, though.

message 5: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I never tell anyone's mom that, especially my own.

message 6: by Maggie (new)

Maggie I wrote my own review, but then found yours and added a link to it. Nicely done, and I agree with what you said. And I *totally* forgot about City of Angels. Nice catch!

message 7: by Ed (new)

Ed Fantastic review.

As an aside, I've only seen the sequel to Wings of Desire once, in an art house theater way back when it was released, but I found Faraway So Close to be eminently satisfying. It's very much about living their lives together and dealing with the consequences. There's no sequel to City of Angels, is there? That should tell you something. If you and your mom haven't already seen Faraway So Close, check it out. (Sorry for turning your book review into a movie review.)

Trin No problem! You're right, Faraway So Close is a wonderful film, although I still like Wings of Desire more. Pretentious bar speech included!

Teri I read this over my birthday weekend (July 16) seemed so appropriate. But man was I mad when i got to "that part". I have never had a sentence i have hated more than, "Emma died". Great review.

message 10: by Kari (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kari Emmer I stole an hour of my boyfriend's life tonight, blathering on trying to explain my feelings about this book -- but more specifically about Emma's death -- which you articulated PERFECTLY in this review. Well said. Thank you!

Meredith This is a fabulous review. My reaction to the accident scene was identical to yours: "Cheap." I actually muttered "What is this?!" (or a saltier version of it laced with expletives) under my breath after reading it. I hate novels and movies that opt for the cheap sleight-of-pen otherwise known as the tearjerkers. And that's exactly what this one did, to its own detriment. There is a world of difference between a sad ending that makes narrative sense and a deus ex machina tragedy.

message 12: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey I always thought the traffic bike accident in City of Angels was super stupid.

Patrick Fantastic review! The first thing I referenced in my review was also 'City of Angels.' Imagine that!

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