Cecily's Reviews > One Day

One Day by David Nicholls
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Mar 01, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: miscellaneous-fiction, humour
Read from June 22 to 27, 2011

This isn't great literature, but it's entertaining and told in a subtler way than I expected, despite a tricky mix of humour and sadness. In particular, the "ending" was not at all what I expected (and the better for it), but I would have stopped the book at that point, rather than drag out the story for a few more chapters, which I think weakened the overall impact.

PLOT
Dexter and Emma are at the same university and know each other by sight, but only meet properly on the evening after graduation, on 15th July 1988. Then they go their separate ways, but stay in touch, on and off. The book catches up with each of them on that date every year for nearly 20 years, through a mixture of his viewpoint and hers, including a few letters and voicemails. The format makes it quite a page-turner.

It is essentially a story of missed opportunities: Emma and Dexter were “unsure about what had happened and what would happen next” rather sums it up.

The central question is the "When Harry Met Sally" conundrum of whether men and women can just be friends, especially when there is an intermittent frisson between them.

The central problem was that I was never quite convinced why their friendship was so deep and enduring.

DEXTER and EMMA
Dexter is the indulged only-child of affluent parents: a vain, feckless hedonist. Emma is clever, idealistic, geeky and working class, with self-esteem issues.

Over the years, each has triumphs and failures and each has moments of wanting to make a move on the other. Sometimes their friendship is intense and at other times, very distant.

WRITING STYLE
One aspect that I liked was the way Nicholls plays with the reader's expectations. For example, some chapters open referring to "him" or "her", but tantalise the reader for a while as to whether that person is Dexter, Emma or someone else altogether. Similarly, sometimes you read a letter or message and only later discover that it was not received.

WILL THEY... WON'T THEY... WHY THEY?
So what do Emma and Dexter see in each other that binds them over so many years? They have almost nothing in common, and she realises from the outset that he is "an idiot" with a short attention span. Perhaps he likes knowing someone "ordinary", to convince others that he is vaguely in touch with reality, but there is guilt too, most noticeably early on when he wants to leave a generous tip in her restaurant, but "Emma felt another small portion of her soul slip away". Another time "He wanted to share all this excitement with Emma, introduce her to new possibilities, new experiences, new social circles", but is it really that he wants to share, is it that he feels his life is empty, or even than he wants to show off to her? At times they reveal a deep devotion, but Dexter "knows that he can always cancel Emma" if something better comes along. Is it that Nicholls can't decide or that the characters can't? (I can’t decide which.)

QUOTES
Some random quotes that capture the style and atmosphere of the book – some hint at SPOILERS:

* "Nothing here [Emma's room] was neutral, everything displayed an allegiance or point of view."
* "He wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photo."
* Making love, a man was "taking care throughout to ensure that he was in no way objectifying her".
* "At this stage in his life, his main criterion for choosing a career was that it should sound good in a bar, shouted in a girl's ear."
* "They were immune to each other now, secure in the confines of firm friendship."
* "Over the years she had reached a level of familiarity with Dexter where it had become possible to hear an idea enter his mind... she should hear the sound of his thoughts."
* "plagiarising 'girlfriend behaviour'"
* Living with a comedian, "Life continued against this tinnitus of mirth."
* "Reading and writing were not the same - you couldn't just soak it up and squeeze it out again."
* “Envy was just the tax you paid on success.”
* “Nothing in the world could be more melancholic than an unwanted engagement ring. It sat in the suitcase… emanating sadness like radiation.”
* Sex with [x] is like a particularly exhausting game of squash, leaving him aching and with a general sense that he has lost.”
* “These days grief seems like walking on a frozen river; most of the time [x] feels safe enough, but there is always the danger that [x] will fall through.”

Overall, it reminded me of some of Jonathan Coe’s books, and I later noticed that he had supplied a cover quote.
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04/16 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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Sarah I've had this recommended to me, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I'll be interested to see what you think of it. I've heard stories of people sobbing in the subway while reading it.


Cecily Ha ha. Hi Sarah. Once again, you're commenting on my review before I've written it!

I'll let you know, but so far (not very far), it's charming and quite amusing. Not great literature, but an enjoyable read, more skillfully written than it first appears.


message 3: by Fiona (new)

Fiona Oh can't give you one of your-style very thorough reviews, but I do recall that it transported me back to the eighties. A book for our era :-) I must have found the story gripping because I also remember arguing with Neil after I got so engrossed in it on a weekend away where I was supposed to be celbrating his birthday - he was not impressed that I had my nose stuck in it for hours!


message 4: by Cecily (last edited Mar 01, 2013 02:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Another comment on a non-existent review. LOL. I'm going to have to hurry up and read this book!

Fiona wrote: "I do recall that it transported me back to the eighties. A book for our era :-)"

It certainly is so far. David Nicholls went to the same university as I did, and was only a year below me (not that I knew him), so I saw a LOT of parallels (and some striking differences) in this and also "Starter for Ten" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).


Cecily Now that I've actually written the review, what's the betting there will be no more comments, ever? ;-)


message 6: by Allie (new)

Allie Riley It still sounds interesting to me, even though you have included some qualifiers! We have it on our shelf and because my husband had bought it I'd sort of presumed it was more his sort of book (he reads SF and fantasy, predominantly). I'm guessing it was the '80s thing which appealed to him. There are other books which are higher on my tbr pile, but I am less put off than I was (what a ringing endorsement!).


Cecily Don't mind me: I almost always include some qualifiers! If you want to pore over every word and have a profound discussion of what you've read, this is probably not the book to read, but for a relatively light, but entertaining, surprising, amusing, original story that one can relate to, this is good.


message 8: by K.D. (new) - added it

K.D. Absolutely Cecily, this book has been gathering dust in my tbr. With 4 stars and your review, I think I will pick this up sometime soon. Thanks!


message 9: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King A great review Cecily but I don't think this book is for me.

And yet Us is excellent. Perhaps you should try it? We all have different tastes though in life, thanks heavens.


Cecily Thanks, Lynne. Us sounds interesting, but I'm not sure that book is for me. Being the same age as Nicholls, and having seen parallels between my life and those of his other characters, I'm not sure I want to see parallels with a dysfunctional couple who have a son the same age as mine!


message 11: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King OK, I see...


Lynda Loved it and the movie


Violet wells Just reread this review and I think we shared a pretty similar experience of this novel except I was more miserly with my stars, Cecily! It's definitely an entertaining read.


Cecily Violet wrote: "Just reread this review and I think we shared a pretty similar experience of this novel except I was more miserly with my stars, Cecily! It's definitely an entertaining read."

Yes, indeed, and thank you.

(You must be a bit of a Pied Piper: since you commented on this old review, it's suddenly acquired several more likes!)


message 15: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat oh, Cecily is generous with her stars ;)


message 16: by Cecily (last edited Apr 17, 2016 11:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Jan-Maat wrote: "oh, Cecily is generous with her stars ;)"

Occasionally. This one benefited from:
1. Exceeding my rather low expectations.
2. Being read/rated in my early days on GR (2011, by the look of it).

My 3. was going to be my personal softness for David Mitchell Nicholls because he attended the same university as I did at the same time, but looking at my even older review of the more relevant Starter for Ten (HERE), I see I gave that only 3*.

I can only conclude that my star ratings are wildly inconsistent, and not very meaningful!


message 17: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Was your reference to David Mitchell in the comment above a 'Freudian' slip, Cecily? ;)


message 18: by Cecily (last edited Apr 17, 2016 12:44PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Teresa wrote: "Was your reference to David Mitchell in the comment above a 'Freudian' slip, Cecily? ;)"

Yes, it was. Now corrected, thanks.

Though by a weird coincidence, I was at school with David Mitchell (the comedian - probably not well-known outside the UK). However, he was in the juniors when I was in the seniors, and I only found out last year. ;)


The Ethical Bunny I didn't love the book but very much liked it !! Your review justifies my thoughts ✔️


message 20: by Vessey (last edited Apr 18, 2016 01:16AM) (new)

Vessey For those, who haven't read the book: my comment is spoilery

I watched the movie some years ago. Couldn’t really decide – and I still can’t - whether I liked it or no. I thought the ending wasn’t…Well, it definitely could have been better. My problem wasn’t that she died, but that she died in a way that didn’t add anything to the story. It said nothing, it didn't move me in any way. It happened just like that! She died for dying’s sake, which kind of put me off. Unless you have seen some symbolism there I might have missed. Maybe something like “Life is short. You never know what might happen, so don’t postpone, don’t waste time”. After all, they couldn’t make their minds about each other for so many years….But even if that was the idea, it was still badly handled.

”One aspect that I liked was the way Nicholls plays with the reader's expectations. For example, some chapters open referring to "him" or "her", but tantalise the reader for a while as to whether that person is Dexter, Emma or someone else altogether. Similarly, sometimes you read a letter or message and only later discover that it was not received.”

This is another thing that makes me doubt if I would enjoy it. But considering the way she dies, it does fit. It does seem to be the author’s way to…Well, I can’t exactly find the right word.

Cecily, I apologize if I sound too negative. With all said, I thought your review,like all your reviews, really rich and insightful, and it really makes me wonder if I should give this book a chance, after all. Thank you. :)


Cecily The Ethical Bunny wrote: "I didn't love the book but very much liked it !! Your review justifies my thoughts ✔️"

Thanks, Ethical Bunny.
:)


Cecily Vessey wrote: "I watched the movie some years ago. Couldn’t really decide – and I still can’t - whether I liked it or not…..."

Whereas I've only read the book. I avoided the film because it looked far more sentimental than the book. Not my thing.

Vessey wrote: "My problem wasn’t that she died, but that she died in a way that didn’t add anything to the story…..."

Good point. And the way the story carried on afterwards made it seem even less relevant in an odd way.

Vessey wrote: "Cecily, I apologize if I sound too negative. With all said, I thought your review,like all your reviews, really rich and insightful, and it really makes me wonder if I should give this book a chance, after all."

Vessey, there's no need to apologise for expressing an opinion, especially when you give your reasons. This would certainly be a big change from Jane Eyre and Les Mis - but not necessarily in a good way. I'm not sure it's your sort of book, but it wouldn't take long for you to find out.

Thanks.


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