My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“What are you going to do with your life?” In one way or another it seemed that people had been asking her this forever; teachers, her parents, friends at three in the morning, but the question had never seemed this pressing and still she was no nearer an answer…”
In my opinion there are three kinds of books. The ones you love, the ones you hate and the ones you read just for the sake of it. ‘One Day’ is of the fourth kind, a brand new type that you like at the beginning, loathe towards the middle, then when you are finished, wonder what the hell it was that you have just been made to experience. Normally I wouldn’t pick up a book like this. I mean, I’m of the camp that likes their fiction well-aged, like wine. If it’s less than 10 years old then it has no place on my bookshelf. A book must carry the battle-scars of critique; it must be a warrior among tomes.
So when I was lent this as a holiday read, I didn’t really think much about it. At the time the movie was also all over the cinemas, and lovey-dovey couples were all flocking to see it. Now that I’ve read the book I wonder why on earth they would want to see it, because it’s the most depressing love story I have ever come across. And make no mistake; ‘One Day’ is horrendous on more than one level.
Yes, ‘One Day’ is confusing, but not because of language or narrative structure, but rather of the uncomfortable impressions it tends to leave. They are like stinging nettle bites; very painful and hard to get rid of. These are impressions of the type that is termed as ‘a bit too close to home’. I’m not sure how it affected others, but I can’t remember the last time I was so disgusted by a character (I mean REALLY abhorred them) nor felt so much kinship to one. Dexter and Emma’s story of finding then losing each other grated on my nerves because despite it being fictional it had some uncomfortable parallels with real life.
These two star ‘crossed lovers meet on St. Swithins Day on the last day of university, fall in love, then part ways. The narrative favours the epistolary tradition, as every chapter becomes a glimpse into their current status in life as the years roll by, allowing us to see their highs and lows and progress as individuals. There are many moments when they come close to getting together, but an unfortunate circumstance or simply one of life’s cock-ups keeps them apart. There is a delicious momentum of longing that slowly builds up. As readers we clearly see their mistakes and that is the frustrating part. They are so blind to their own shortcomings I wanted to shout at them. But aren’t we all? Success also comes to each at different times; while Dexter is at his TV presenter peak, Emma is still slaving away in a sweaty Mexican restaurant, wondering what the hell happened to her dreams.
Theirs’ is not a conventional love story, which is ok, because in reality there is no such thing as conventional. But this is literature and surely we are owed that, right? We must be allowed to live out our dreams through the pages. But Nicholls thinks otherwise, and questions that very same ideal. He also attempts to hit the highest and riskiest note of all in his readership: acceptance of a novel even when we might not like the story, or even the characters.
In this book a reader can find so much of oneself in it, disturbingly so. And this can either be a terrible thing, or a thing of startlingly beauty. As you can see I haven’t quite decided on that yet. Even though I’m not fresh out of university, I could still identify with Emma’s feeling of loss as to what to do with her life. Her love of literature, dream of writing a book one day and even her quest to becoming an English teacher all struck chords with me. That’s maybe why I hated Dexter, who let’s face it, it’s the most pleasant character of all with his haughty, selfish rich-boy ways. Emma is the strong one who works her way to solid success while Dexter fritters away the many opportunities handed down to him by his parents. You know what this means don’t you? Dexter doesn’t deserve Emma. Here is a love story where the guy is an absolute git, and the girl an earnest diamond. Sure, both make their mistakes but when you get to the shock ending, pretty much everybody is one Emma’s side.
“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 be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”
This is my first time reading Nicholls, and I realise he is a genius at recalling the past in all it’s uncomfortable glory. It’s true what they say. Life is what happens when you are too busy doing something else, and not paying attention to what should REALLY be done. And that’s what happens to Dex and Em. And that is what’s happening to us right now all over the world. Opportunities are passing us by at a frightening speed all because we are too busy feeling sorry for ourselves or frantically feeding our egos. In this sense the former is represented by Emma and the latter by Dexter.
In some ways, I suppose I must give credit to Nicholls. He actually saved me from going down the dark spiral of never-never land that Emma was so dangerously close to. Reading this was like a stern, psychological kick up the arse, a ‘pull yourself together’ warning. Since finishing the novel and writing this review I have finally decided to take the plunge towards teaching. Yes, after years of dilly-dallying I have turned my life around so to speak, and this is one of the wonderful things Nicholls’ terribly unconventional novel did for me; get me moving in the right direction. It’s a beautiful and rare thing when a novel can do that for you.
Tell me, what books have you read that have totally changed your attitude to life?
NOTE: Current rating might go up to a four, depending on how this book will age on me.
- A love story by David Nicholls, the author of One Day (thetimes.co.uk)
- One Day by David Nicholls (organisedclutter.wordpress.com)
- One day (angelbookclub.wordpress.com)
- David Nicholls: Adapting Great Expectations for the screen (guardian.co.uk)
- One Day (adelinesays.wordpress.com)