on January 10, 2010
I absolutely loved this book. I became a big fan of Nicholls with his first novel (A Question of Attraction -- originally titled "Starter for Ten" with its U.K. edition.) I was a little letdown by his second -- The Understudy, which was fun, but not quite as good as his first. This book exceeds his first. He takes a great device -- following the lives of one couple on the same day over a period of 20 years -- and does a masterful job of storytelling with it. We go from the couple's idealistic college days -- they meet on the day of their graduation -- all the way into their late 30s, with all the physical and emotional changes that come during that timespan. We see the career missteps along the way, and all the various relationships they have while still remaining friends -- and the woman, Emma, always secretly in love with Dexter Mayhew, who has more than a few wild oats to sow before he realizes the woman he should be with is the one who's always been his best friend. The writing is absolutely marvelous. The dialogue is absolutely terrific -- the couple have a teasing/kneedling way of talking to each other and the reparteee between them remains funny and fresh throughout even though the novel is long -- 435 pages.
To say much more would be to give too much away. But if you like insightful books about relationships that can touch all of your emotions, this is the book for you. I think structurally the way Nicholls manages to take you on an extraordinary trip from the first page to the very last is a tour de force.
I had to buy this from amazon/uk because it was available in Britain a year before it became available in the United States, but I'm so happy I got it. This is definitely a book I will re-read several times -- and I hope Nicholls continues to have a prolific career.
on January 5, 2010
After I had been ploughing through two brick-like books that had 'Literature' (with capital L) writ large all over them, this variation on the evergreen topic of 'Harry and Sally' was a most welcome relief: genuinely funny, liberal doses of acid repartee and shrewd observations, great care given to telling details and lots of fine craftsmanship spent on the staging of embarrassing encounters, disastrous reunions and relationships derailing. (I particularly liked the parlour game gone horribly wrong at the home of one of the leading man's prospective girlfriends.)
And what is more, from the very beginning there is beneath the surface charm a strong undercurrent steering proceedings away from mere lightweight banter into the more troubled waters of a true ,human comedy`. In the last chapters the author even sets about sounding depths for which the reader arguably has not been sufficiently prepared; I still wonder if these late twists add an extra layer of complexity or simply strike a false note and ultimately are Nicholls' misguided bid for being shelved with the serious authors.
The concluding pages are heavily fragrant with bitter-sweetness, again something an author introduces at his own risk; but on the other hand there is no denying that the unexpected narrative device used in these pages conveys an adeqaute impression of things coming full circle and being brought to a close.
And yes, I was moved, so no more niggling and five stars out of five.
One thing is certain: David Nicholls is an adept humor writer. There are plenty of amusing moments and sharp one-liners to be found in "One Day." Another mark in Nicholls' favor is that he understands how complicated life can be. His characters screw up (sometimes repeatedly), do unlikeable things (and quite frequently), and so his novel is lifted above standard romantic comedy offerings. I can certainly see why so many people enjoy this book so very much. But if I'm being completely honest I must admit that I am not one of those people, despite the good points I just mentioned.
My main problem with this book is that Nicholls takes the disagreeable components of several characters a little too far. Dexter (or Dex, as he is frequently called) goes from being the person you like "in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek, love-to-hate kind of way" (in the words of his agent) to someone you (or at least I) can't abide somewhere around the hundred page mark. It's one thing that some of the minor characters are irritating, but it's quite another when you just can't stand one half of your romantic pair. Dex is the kind of self-involved, pleasure-seeking guy you are meant to love anyway because his charisma is winning and his heart, well, might just be filled with good intentions, even if they rarely-to-never get realized. He's the kind of guy who would actually take the time to wonder that "he wasn't sure that struggle suited him" when pondering a career path. Indeed, the only reason he wants a career at all is so that he can have a line to impress women with (and since "Hi, nice to meet you, I'm an astronaut" isn't in the cards he'll just have to fall back on television). This much is amusing, but when his self-absorption leads him to angrily think to himself that "he has better things to do" then be at his beloved mother's deathbed, it goes too far.
Disclaimer time. I am not callous. I am well aware of how difficult it can be to deal with a parent's serious illness because I have personal experience in the matter. I am also well aware of the fact that Dex thinking he has better things to do is meant to reflect his inability to emotionally process the impending death of his mother so soon after he has graduated from college. Here's my problem with this: in the first hundred and fifty pages of the novel it becomes abundantly clear that Dex is meant to be on a long path to recovery. Not just from his own self-absorption, but from the more literal excessive drinking and drug use that begin to plague him immediately after graduation. OK, I have two problems with this--the first is that when things continue in the same vein I just wished he would hit rock bottom so we could get to the healing, already, but since there were still three hundred pages left it was apparent that absolute rock bottom was a ways off. By the time he gets left alone with a baby and predictably can't keep away from the liquor cabinet I just wanted to throw the book across the room. The second, and much larger of my problems with this novel, is that it is clear that it is up to poor, sweet Emma to save him.
This isn't, at heart, a story about Dexter and Emma--or it is, but only insofar as Emma is the only person with the capacity to affect real change in Dex. In the end, the love story in "One Day" is secondary to Dexter's story. Emma is reduced to (eventually) acting as the vehicle for his recovery. So her story stagnates. She can't fall in love, because if she did there wouldn't be any room for Dexter in her life. Who, after all, needs so much unnecessary drama anyway? We are meant to believe that Emma can't fall in love because she has already fallen, irretrievably, for Dex. I'm sure this point just screams to the romantic in a lot of readers that like this book. Well, I'm a romantic, too (believe it or not at this point), and this just didn't do it for me. Emma's total love for Dex is inexplicable. It doesn't make sense. And I'm well aware that life itself rarely makes sense, but this went overboard to me. They have nothing in common. You can tell me that opposites attract as much as you want, and I will believe you, but I still won't see how Dex and Emma could ever be considered a matched pair. And the fact that Emma is expected to wait around just to save Dexter when he's ready isn't romantic, it's insulting.
I can't discuss the ending here, but I will say that I found it to be EXTREMELY manipulative. I might have been more willing to forgive my complaints about this book had it ended differently. But I don't want to give anything away for anyone who wants to read this book, so I will say no more.
If you are a fan of Nicholas Sparks you will probably love this. I have seen frequent comparisons to When Harry Met Sally, a movie that I absolutely adore, but I don't think they hold true. Harry and Sally are clearly meant for each other, even when they bicker upon first meeting, and I see no such chemistry in Dex and Emma. There are also many comparisons to Same Time Next Year, but as I have neither seen the movie nor read the play I cannot say how they stack up.
As I said in the beginning, I can see why so many people have enjoyed this book and are undoubtedly looking forward to the movie version. I just don't get it.
on July 2, 2010
Ahhh...the joy of reading about two people being miserable for twenty years...
Well yes, there's that, however One Day is a very well written and a compelling read that will keep you up into the wee hours of the morning. I kept reading about this one and the premise sounded intriguing so I had to give it a try. The book follows Dexter and Emma for a span of twenty years, telling the story of where they are in their lives on one day ~ July 15 ~ every year. From everything I had heard (and read in the gazillion blurbs,) I expected this to be a love story, and while Emma does yearn to be with Dexter, love story it is not. What it is instead is a tale of lives misspent on bad decisions and two people who never quite figured out how to be happy.
One Day starts out twenty years ago, the morning after Dexter and Emma have hooked up. They've just graduated from college and their "real lives" are about to begin. Emma is idealistic and has harbored a crush on Dexter for a while. Dexter...well, Dexter doesn't seem to care very deeply about anything. They go their separate ways but remain friends over the years.He eventually gets a job as a Howard Stern like TV host and Emma begins working in a Mexican restaurant but dreams of writing. His life is a rapid descent into drinking, drugs, and sleeping with EVERY woman he crosses paths with. I found it really hard to have any sympathy for his character and to tell the truth, I kept hoping something awful would happen to him to make him wake up and quit being such an ass. But even when bad things did happen to him, he continued on with his selfish, self-destructive ways. Emma's life meanwhile is quiet and plods along slowly (marked by her own share of really bad decisions.) She eventually achieves "success" in life but she never seems to find happiness. Her relationships don't work out, she suffers from low self-esteem and I think we are supposed to believe that if only she and Dexter could figure out they belong together, they would get their happily-ever-after.
Only problem is, I never found myself rooting for them to get together because frankly, I thought Dexter was a jerk and would more than likely only break her heart anyway. I couldn't figure out for the life of me why he had such a hold over her heart for so long. I can understand it when she was in her twenties, but for two decades? Seriously? You know the girlfriend you just wanna shake cause she keeps picking the wrong men? Hello, Emma.
And the ending. Remember watching the last Lord of the Rings movie and thinking to yourself at least 4 or 5 times, "Ok, THIS must be the end?" Check. And I have some other issues with the ending, but discussing them would include spoilers and I don't wanna do that. Suffice it to say a certain pivotal event kinda pissed me off. Not to mention it was ripped right out of a popular movie from a few years ago. If you read it you will understand. Or you can email me and we can discuss it =)
Bottom line, despite my complaints, One Day IS highly readable. It gives a solid portrayal of the emptiness in living only for yourself with no regard for others (shout out to Jesse James and Tiger Woods.) It also does a fine job of showing us the changes Dex and Emma go through in their lifetimes...dreams that don't quite work out, disillusionment, aging itself, and longing for something more. Not every book can be about the winners at the game of life.
on August 17, 2010
It took me a while to finally pick up ONE DAY. For some reason I was worried it would be a bit too contrived, too cute for its own good. Suffice it to say, my assumption was proven wrong by year two, 1989. This was savored. Put down at appropriate moments -- chapter breaks -- because I just couldn't let it end. Then, once it did end, I sat on the beach and just gazed at the waves. Sad -- SO SAD -- to say goodbye to these well-developed, beautifully flawed characters, characters who constantly reflected the humanity I see every day. Sure, I laughed out-loud numerous times, but in the end, ONE DAY left me pensive, even melancholy. Of course, such an emotional wallop is the hallmark of great literature!
On a final note: DO NOT READ TOO MANY AMAZON REVIEWS -- especially the negative ones -- AS THEY ARE LOADED WITH SPOILERS. This is not a book to have spoiled.
on June 28, 2010
I too had read rave reviews for this book, and I readily admit that the premise is exceedingly clever and involving. I am roughly the age of the characters, and it was definitely fun to stroll through the past twenty or so years as covered in the novel.
Unfortunately, I found the male protagonist to be exceedingly unlikeable. I do realize that the whole premise of the novel is to show the growth and change in these two characters, but even so, Dexter really spent the vast majority of the novel as a self-involved, hedonistic, childish alcoholic. I kept waiting for the tipping point when he was finally going to enroll himself in AA and make a complete turn around, but it never happened. The scene when he drugged his own daughter was beyond the pale.
Frankly, it never struck me as believable that this man would turn out to be the love of Em's life. A school girl/university crush? Sure! But by the time she is a successful, level-headed woman in her late 30's, I can't imagine what she saw in him other than nostalgia and the memories of unrequited love.
"One Day" deserves to be the "it" book of the summer. By dropping in on his characters Emma and Dexter for one specific day, July 15th, over the course of twenty years, David Nicholls creates slices of life that are both detailed and broad.
This structure really worked for me and made me want to keep reading, since each chapter advanced the story in a significant way. Nicholls did a great job of propelling us into the middle of a new situation with each chapter, and I felt he only cheated once, in the year 2000, with some (understandable) back pedaling to fill in events from earlier that year. The book's chapters are grouped into four sections, "Early Twenties" through "Late Thirties," and I only wish I had paced myself differently, so that I read all of "Late Thirties" to the end in one uninterrupted session.
Like Tom Perrotta's Little Children I felt that "One Day" is a book that might have been labeled "chick lit" if written by a woman, but is received as clever, accessible literature as written by a man. This should make us reconsider our labels! I will put this book on my husband's summer reading table, too.
I struggled between four and five stars, which is really just a detail. I think the two humanely flawed, relatable protagonists might be embarrassed by five-star perfection. This is an eminently readable book, a fine character study that is both worthwhile and enjoyable. Nicholls intertwines his characters lives over decades, and in the end, makes us as readers reflect back on how we are spending our time.
on September 17, 2010
I actually enjoy both literature AND romantic comedy. However the combination brings back unpleasant memories of my youth when my Mom insisted on feeding me a dish that combined fish AND bananas.
Some small spoilers here...
The cleverly structured story of the relationship of Dex and Em, starting out as a drunken college hookup and growing from there was a fun read with some laugh out loud moments. It is most successful in the first half where the storytelling is lighter and sweetly nostalgic. The theme of their correspondence (she writes long hysterically funny works of art which he responds to with one word postcards) hit painfully close to home - I thought I was the only person to ever write wittily funny letters to a huge crush under the guise of friendly correspondence! But still there friendly flirtation felt very real and will strike a chord with most everybody who has ever had a friend who could have been more.
However the book slowly goes off the rails with Dex's increasingly painful alcoholism and as he ages, the selfishness which seemed endearing and age-appropriate when he was younger turns into an overwhelming character flaw (like other readers the scene where he "cares" for his infant was horrifyingly difficult to forgive). So much so that Em's continued interest in Dex starts to feel rather sad. Similarly the author is very busy telling (but not really showing) us how amazing Em is but her own lonely solitary life filled with poor romantic choices seem to indicate otherwise. When they finally do get together, it seems the author is trying to make a case for soul mates who simply needed to wait until the "right time" but the effect seems more of two desperate people who have run out of viable alternatives. The ending, one could argue, represents "real life." But to me felt like somebody who had the makings of a painfully funny romantic comedy but then decided they wanted to be taken seriously as a "real writer" and thus took things unnecessarily into a dark direction.
That being said, there are some really good parts of this book which leave me giving it 3.5 stars. The author has a gift for dialogue and humor. He also has an eye for relationships and all of the dynamics between various characters rung true and familiar. I laughed out loud at multiple parts (in the first half) and definitely felt invested in these two people and wanted to see where their journey would take them. Despite my disappointments, I will keep an eye on David Nicholls and am curious to see which direction (lit vs. rom com) he pursues next (fingers crossed its the latter).
on August 15, 2010
[This review is of the Audible version, narrated by Anna Bentinck. Ms. Bentinck's reading of this work is wonderful. By very slight nuances of voice or pacing, she effectively inhabits the various characters, keeping even long scenes of dialog completely clear as to who was speaking and what they might have been feeling. The narrator's voice also was distinct from the characters', and this all seemed quite effortless and un-"acted". Kudos.]
This book is lovely in its writing, with many passages of narrative, and especially dialogue, to savor. The language envelops the reader deeply into the story without calling attention to itself, and it was because of the writing that I was pulled to continue with the story, waiting for a payoff that, unfortunately, never came (or rather, came too late to undo the ennui that had set in early and remained for the duration of this dreary book). The organization and structure of the book is, as many others have pointed out, interesting and unusual - checking in on Em and Dex on St. Swithin's Day each year following their initial night together.
However, the story itself is dismal, the characters depressing, the scenes often just excruciating and cringe-making (Dex's scene with his dying mother, e.g.), with the narrative arc sputtering along in stop-and-start fashion along a flat and uninteresting plane, year after year after year. Character development is almost nil. Emma does eventually grow and change, making a life for herself as a waitress, then a teacher, and finally a writer. But Dex simply continues his alcoholic womanizing, riding an endless wave of self-delusion and whining for years until he finally marries Emma, at which time he finally grows up. (Why? How? There was no foreshadowing of growing up for this character.) But only temporarily! As soon as Emma is gone, down goes Dex again, back into his bottle, back under his rock. This time it's because he's grieving. Well, ok.
Fundamental unanswered questions: why does Emma even like a poseur like Dex, much less love him, for years on end? Why is Dex, with all his advantages, such an alcoholic, womanizing, self-pitying, boring loser, and why should we care about him? Why does Dex love Emma, who is nice enough and eventually grows out of her own self-righteousness to become sufficiently accomplished, but is generally dull and not very interesting?
Finally, the payoff limps in, a day late and a dollar short, in the genuinely lovely last scene of the book, which flashes back to continue the story of Em and Dex on their first day following their first night. (This is the first we hear of their having spent the following day together.) Nichols takes time with this scene; finally we see both in a much more sympathetic and endearing light and at long last, we find ourselves wishing them well. Finally we understand why they loved each other all these years. But please: it was their first day after their first night -- why not give it to us right up front, to underwrite the otherwise inexplicable emotion that bound these two together? Why this coy, counterintuitive, backwards structure? We see these characters for hundreds (seems like thousands) of pages mostly at their worst before we finally get to see them as they were when they initially fell in love. A dozen times I wanted to abandon the story on the grounds of boredom and irritation but was kept engaged by the beautiful writing. Why waste such great writing on such a dreary story?
At the end of the day, it's like one of those made-for-tv movies that are just engaging enough to keep you from changing the channel, but when it's over you smack yourself upside the head for having wasted your time and good will.
The book just does not deliver; there are better books and movies of this type. The main character, Dexter's life is one long, never-ending party. His character never grows or fully develops. By the half way point of the book I was hoping he would get a good ass kicking. Sadly it never comes and by the end of the book he does not become the great person he could be. The female character, Emma, grows and develops along with the story. Emma spends 20 years waiting for Dexter who does not want to leave the party even though everyone has left but him. He only leaves the party because he has set fire to the building not because he wants to.