If you want a simple, predictable love story, do not read David Nicholls’ novel One Day. Yes, this is a story about best friends who not only love one another, but complement each other perfectly, but that is where the predictable ends and life begins.
Told entirely in the context of one day each year, the anniversary of their first meeting in 1988, this is the story of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley. The pair become best friends post-college graduation and see each other through year after year of unrequited love, bad decisions and good fortune.
Nicholls authored two novels previous to One Day, Starter For Ten and The Understudy) and has experience on stage as both an actor and script writer. Much of his written work has crossed over to the big screen and now One Day is no different.
It is currently a film in production starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. The transition between film and print is not surprising for Nicholls’ career. The fast-paced flow of his novels alone engage a reader as effectively, if not more so, than film. He lives in London where much of this novel takes place.
With raw emotion and unbelievable humor the book spans 20 years, and the reader is entangled in the surprising and often heartbreaking lives of the two main characters. Nicholls’ prose is quick and unapologetic. The pages alternate between the dialogue, inner monologues and poetic third person observances, of all characters involved. We see Dexter and Emma through very human and identifiable situations. They struggle in the way everyone does; with the big questions of love and relationships, careers and mistakes.
Above all, they search out their dreams and attempt to balance their friendship with their individual wants. Neither are always successful. They chart their courses and set out on different journeys. Then, we catch a glimpse of them on that same fateful day the next year and things are terrifyingly or exhilaratingly different. This style choice leaves a reader constantly guessing. Shortly into the first year or two, you are so connected to Dex and Em, as they call one another, that the suspense has bonded itself to legitimate compassion and concern. This feels very much akin to our own investment in real life uncertainties.
In varying amounts of elation and desperation, this story unfolds. It will leave you hungrily eating up the words. At times, you will experience ”can’t breathe” laughter, then “publically embarrassing” sobs. Whatever emotion, all will feel uncontrollable; precisely like the lives of the characters you so badly want to see end up together. That feeling of being out of control can definitely be infuriating.
Many times, the reader will miss life-altering events in the characters’ lives and then frantically play catch up on the day we are allowed to see Dex and Em again. If you can accept this and realize that the fleeting moments we are given in the novel perfectly convey the preciousness of our own lives, then you will suffer a lot less as a reader. You can wish Nicholls would have let us see everything but then, it just wouldn’t be the same.
In no way is this novel supernatural, but it does call to mind The Time Traveler’s Wife in that it will disorientates the reader in the best possible way. This book will leave you cognizant of your own life and possibilities in a way that you can’t easily ignore.