One Day by David Nicholls

One Day is the story of Emma and Dexter. It gets told over twenty years by focusing on one day of each year. The day is July 15 and we read about where they are at that point and fill in the gaps about what happened to get them to there. It starts from the night of their graduation from university.

The story starts off simply enough. Privileged, pretty boy gets everything he wants and wastes it. Hard working girl from Yorkshire achieves top grades but can’t live her dream. A double first in English and history from the University of Edinburgh lands her a job in a greasy fast food restaurant where she whiles away the time wishing she was elsewhere.

Her creativity is hollowed out and expressed through beautiful, wistful letters to a guy who would rather be elsewhere with some nubile young thing and who usually is. Perhaps a pocket of his soul is saved for her but not much more.

That’s the beginning and if you expect to find a glowing romance then this isn’t the book for you. This story is about real life. It’s about how age wears you down and you settle and you make do with what you have. It’s about love but not in the passionate, make every dream come true, kind of love. Not really. It is the reminder that passion and romance have a place but life will happen regardless.

The real gem here is David Nichol’s writing. No matter what the characters do, the writing stands out and remains powerful throughout. Some examples:

“As the possibility of a relationship had faded, Emma had endeavored to harden herself to Dexter’s indifference and these days a remark like this caused no more pain than, say, a tennis ball thrown sharply at the back of her head.”

“Life is about to change if only because it must.”

“Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to simply try and be good and courageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at … something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever…”

As a travel writer, he was no Bruce Chatwin, but still she would slip the postcards in the pocket of a heavy coat on long soulful walks on Ilkley Moor, searching for some hidden meaning in ‘VENICE COMPLETELY FLOODED!!!!”

There is a whole list of quotations on Goodreads and some people liked that encouragement that he sent Emma from his letters in India. When he was drunk. I think some consider it the romantic ‘almost’. The what could have happened had that letter been mailed. I don’t. I don’t like Dexter but this story works sometimes despite what happens to them.

I will leave you with my favourite that is a poignant reminder of how it is life, day to day, that is the most tiring thing sometimes.

‘No reason, Em’ said Dex. ‘I just really, really want to tip you,’ and Emma felt another small portion of her soul fall away.

2 responses to “One Day by David Nicholls”

  1. Coincidental timing – I reread both this and The Understudy over the weekend. Fantastic writer.

  2. Great review! I enjoyed this book a lot. I did indeed expect romance to happen but year after year, nothing! A great book about real life, but in such a way that it’s interesting. That’s quite a feat.

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