** spoiler alert **
I picked up One Day at the airport. I already had a few books on me (as any member of goodreads would). I'd seen the trailer for the movie, but I still think it was mostly an impulse. There was no conscious 'must read before film' vibe for me.
The hook for One Day is that the story spans many years but takes place on only one day, the same day every year. Sometimes the characters are together; sometimes their lives have taken them in vastly different directions. As techniques go it was fairly well executed. Every major event does not happen on this one day a year, but some cheating does occur. I didn't find the cheating too off putting although I did notice it. For instance, Emma and Dexter meet on this day, which is why the day was probably selected, but they also stop speaking for several years after a conversation held on this day -- then several years later they begin speaking again on this day. In general, however, the author goes through some pains to make the day average through a majority of the book. Most of the time it is a successful snapshot of the moment they are living in.
The biggest problem, and what diminished my enjoyment of the book, was the main characters. I didn't find either main character lovable. Dexter is most spoiled rich boys and when Emma isn't suffering she is bland. I certainly didn't think their romance was epic enough to warrant a book let alone a book like this where their lives and romance are tracked over decades. Yet, at the same time, their imperfect circle back to one another, their irredeemable personality traits, made the experience worth while for me. Most of the time I only tolerated Dexter. Emma wasn't any bright shinning light despite the author's aims. But... they both fucked up in ways I could relate to. They made mistakes, faltered over pride, and threw away opportunities with both hands. Maybe I didn't like them because sometimes they painted a mirror image of my own mistakes. None of the situations remotely resembled my life and yet I felt a constant, perhaps universal, connection to some of my own worst choices.
I don't think Emma and Dexter's romance could have turned out any differently. They weren't right for each other the first time they met. They weren't right for each other each time they edged closer to being something. The separate, winding paths their lives took made it possible for that (forgive me) spark, to develop into something. If they'd done more than brush against the idea of being in love in their early twenties then they would have been each other's first mistake instead of the best thing that ever happened to either of them.
Emma's death surprised and saddened me. It was written bleakly, as if everything important about Emma was snuffed out along with her life. There's no whisper of souls or an after-life, neither of which I believe in. I respect that the author didn't pad it out to comfort people, although I expect the starkness of her loss more than her death is what made so many people unhappy. We get to see Dexter go on for thirty or forty pages without Em. He is miserable, then slightly less miserable, and then finally able to remember her with some sense of peace. When he called her his best friend in the context of someone taking her away I felt more sappy than during her actual death scenes. Probably because with that line, I realized why the story was about these two people I didn't like much. They were the most important events in one another's lives, the very best thing life had given either of them, and this is how it happened. They didn't need to be epic and I didn't need to like either of them to appreciate the significance and the way things worked out.
Overall the book has some beautiful, charming writing. I underlined many sections of the book to reread later and if I'm feeling ambitious I'll add it to the quote section on goodreads. Despite the writing, I can't get over not quite liking the characters for a large portion of the book. Three stars. I think maybe I'll give it four if I read it when I'm older.