The third book that I finished recently was One Day by David Nicholls, a book that I liked to keep in my handbag and read at lunchtimes and other odd moments – my constant companion, just like its two lead characters.
This novel tells the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, whose friendship begins on the night of their graduation, 15th July 1988, and each chapter is a window into their lives on the same day every year following that. The nature of this format means that we sometimes miss important events which happen outside of that particular date, but Nicholls cleverly fills in the gaps along the way.
The two lead characters, Em and Dex, are so well realised that you wouldn’t be surprised to meet them on the street. Their traits and shortcomings are recognisable and relatable, and far from fictional. Even the paths their lives take are very believable; just as in real life, most of what happens to them over the two decades was not expected or planned for. Sometimes Dexter is on top of the world and Emma is languishing in mediocrity, other times Dexter is suffering and Emma is succeeding. The changes from their twenties to their thirties, from hope to disillusionment, from where they thought they’d be to where they eventually ended up – these are all possiblities in the lives of the author’s readers as much as they are in the lives of his characters.
One thing I was not keen on was Nicholls’s tendency to switch tenses from one chapter to the next and sometimes within chapters but, other than that, the writing is tremendous. His style is witty, humorous, acerbic, and some of his best turns of phrase come from his characters’ own mouths, lending a real authenticity to their dialogue. The strength of this novel really does come from the solidity of Emma and Dexter’s personalities and the way they effect both positive and negative change in their relationship as they grow older. Funny and sad, this is just a great book to read.