MB Book Club: One Day by David Nicholls (Review)

Hi friends!

Today was a rainy, muggy day in Seoul and I gotta be honest – I am missing Krabi. Loads. All of the kids were in the same boat, tired and a bit winsome, missing their holidays but also happy to be back in the jungle school causing mayhem. I did miss them, and all of the attention and affection and lolz were quite enjoyable!

However, my mind (and heart) is still back in Krabi, dreaming of the Island Life. During my heavenly holiday, I happened to take along a book that I finished reading on the flight home. It was that good (or most of it, anyway…) – and it is One Day by David Nicholls. You may have heard of this book, as it was a bestseller circa 2009 and it was subsequently made into a (supposedly sub-par) movie featuring Anne Hathaway. I had wanted to read this for a long time, especially as I used to work in a bookshop and was constantly tempted by the glowing reviews from customers. Somewhere along the line I picked it up (second-hand, I’m pretty sure), and happened to toss it into my bag for my Thai getaway.

Here’s how I spent much of my holiday, in my silk kimono, lying down with the fan on, reading this gem:

Reading a book, in bed, in a kimono. Bliss <3
Reading a book, in bed, in a kimono. Bliss <3

Firstly, I know I have’t been reading/finishing/blogging about many books and I want this to change soon. I intended the MB Book Club to be a regular, if not monthly, feature, but that hasn’t yet happened. If you would like to read my previous, singular entry (about Irene Nemirovsky’s David Golder), click here!

Who’s the author?

David Nicholls is a former actor turned screenwriter who had written two books before One Day. According to the bio in the front of the book, he was featured in a number of BBC productions, including an adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In fact, in the Q&A in the back of the book he talks about Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece (which I am yet to read… oops) as having a huge influence on One Day. There is a particularly relevant quote from Tess of the D’Urbervilles featured and it served as a centrepiece for the plot. Even just researching this and writing this review has helped me tie all of this novel together, despite my frustrations that I will touch on in a minute – but I don’t want to say anything more!

What’s the premise? 

This is one of the things that enticed me to first pick up this book (along with a million people telling me I had to read it). The book starts on July 15 (my  birthday!), 1988, which is St Swithin’s Day in the UK, and introduces us to the two protagonists, Emma and Dexter. It is the morning after graduation and they have wound up in bed together, having stayed up all night discussing the complexities of life (well, she did, anyway). Emma is a thoughtful, self-righteous and insecure young woman struggling to evolve from her adolescence. Dexter, on the other hand, is a bit of a swashbuckling type, handsome, self-assured and slightly hollow. They seem to be total opposites, but something pulls them together and they feel a connection, which both of them understand to be invaluable in the fast-paced world of 1988 (wink).

The book checks in on the same day, July 15 for every year that follows up until 2007. You can probably tell from this that there is a lot that changes over time. There is. One of the core foundations of this novel, however, is the the inextricable pull felt between Emma and Dexter, in varying degrees of intensity, throughout the entire book. In the beginning, it appears as if Emma is yearning for Dexter much more than he ever could; however, despite periods of wildness/self-destruction, Dexter never seems to let Emma go. He is infuriatingly flaky at times, but he always seems to come back to her… just not necessarily in the way that we want.

So… what did I think of it?

I absolutely gobbled up this book, and I loved it… until the end. Yep, it’s one of those. I really want to try not to give spoilers here, because I highly recommend you read it. However, if you are the to get frustrated by stories, this might not be your thang. I try to remain level-headed about these things, because sometimes life isn’t perfect and everything can’t always be perfect and oh-don’t-you-wish-it-could-be-perfect-but-it-CAN’T… sometimes. Still, I would’ve liked this book to end a certain way, and it didn’t. I must say, part way through I started to get the feeling that this was going to happen, but still I soldiered on with mild trepidation (plus I didn’t really have a choice – it grabs you and sucks you in and won’t let you go).

I know this must seem infuriatingly vague, but trust me, I’m doing it for your own good!

The good points? There are many. The writing is wonderful and the characters are so perfectly drawn – particularly Ian, the hangdog, needy but caring wannabe comedian that Emma shacks up with for a few years. He tries so hard to get Emma to love him, as does she, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the author’s depiction of Ian hamming up his pain during a mild headcold. In addition, I feel like Emma was me a few years ago, and the way Nicholls captures the post-university uncertainty and despair and mild panic is perfect. I relate less to Dexter, but I think even for a seemingly superficial character he comes through eventually and shows he has a heart behind the fluff.

Throughout the story, there are so many near-misses, what-if, almost-but-then-not moments that make your heart yearn and your stomach ache and occasionally your teeth grit. I guess the good thing about all this is that this book really makes you feel something… and that is something I really enjoy in a book!

There were also a number of times when I would laugh/snort out loud at this story, and it really is funny in parts. That’s the British humour for you (I know that sounds sarcastic but I really mean it)! I also found the constant switching between the two characters’ viewpoints interesting and illuminating. This book really drove home to me the fact that we never really know what other people are thinking, and above all the need to live in the moment. Time passes and before you know it, it’s twenty years later. To be honest, this thought sort of stresses me out (much less now than it used to), but I want to take it as an impetus to do what I want to do now… because you really never know what will happen.

This book is perfect for you if… you want a feel-good (but not too feel-good!), very British book version of a dramedy. It’ll make you laugh/snort, possibly cry and definitely ache. All those good things!

If you’ve read One Day I’d loved to hear your thoughts! I’m still sort of internally chewing over this story and looking for answers and feeling sort of alone here (lol) so any feedback would be very appreciated!

Until next time,

Steph x

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