One Day – David Nicholls

Don’t judge me for the next paragraph because it’s me laying my reading soul bare for you and ridicule would vex me, ha! There are some books I read that whilst not putting me into a life changing state, I find I have to give a hug because they sort of touch me in some way, or just make reading a pure unadulterated pleasure. ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls is one such book. It didn’t leave me in such awe I couldn’t breathe (though it did make me cry) but I when I finished it I wished I still had pages and pages to go. Maybe we should look at this in more detail?

The title of David Nicholls third novel ‘One Day’ is rather brilliant as in part it sort of sums up the plot in which we meet two people on the same day over twenty years, and it sums up the slightly nostalgic feel to the book of ‘oh, maybe one day…’ I am pretty sure we have all experienced that feeling at some point (if not several) in our lives; which of course is a master stroke because if you can empathise with a book naturally you are much more drawn into it, just as I was in this case. But let’s look at the plot a little more before I go off on a tangent about me.

As the book opens in on St Swithun’s Day (July 15th) in 1988 we meet Dexter and Emma who have just spent a drunken night together at the end of their university studies in Edinburgh. It’s that awkward morning after, and one Dexter is rather prone to, however in this instance for some reason they decide to keep in touch both with that feeling that this could be something special, but neither really having the guts to say so, or being made a fool off in case of getting rebuffed. Over the next twenty years we meet these two people wherever they might be and follow their lives which interlink and separate with a slight feeling of inevitability but nothing, as we learn, ever goes the way you think it might. I don’t want to say anymore as I wouldn’t want to spoil what a treat the reader has in store, I will say that Nicholls pulls the rug from under you several times so just when you think ‘aha, I see where this is going’ you’re proven wrong.

Really the book is about Dexter and Emma and their journeys from early twenties until their forties and the almost present day. The cast of additional characters that come in and out of their lives are well drawn and real but because of the nature of the book they never become big characters. Dexter becomes a celebrity bringing out ever more the arrogance that he has from the start whilst Emma dreams of being a writer whilst serving food from hell in a horrid restaurant chain. Again I won’t say how things progress for fear of plot spoiling. I mentioned Dexter is arrogant, yet he’s not a complete twit, in fact both our lead characters have flaws which would normally make you think ‘eurgh’ but with Nicholls writing makes them all the more real, we know people like them and in some instances we have even been people like them.

I didn’t think hopping from year to year would work. I didn’t think I would bond with our leading duo or be able to follow the stories from the previous year. Once again I was wrong on both counts as Nicholls manages to convincingly, without it ever feeling forced, drop small hints as to what has happened since – even when Dexter and Emma don’t speak for several years but meet mutual friends – so really you feel you live the whole story with them. In fact it’s like those friends you catch up with year to year but it’s like you only saw them last week and by the end these two fictional characters do weirdly feel like your mates.

I am well aware that this book won’t be for everyone but anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong. The prose is incredibly readable without being throw-away. I laughed and cried whilst reading this book in one sitting, it was rather like spending a day on an emotional rollercoaster I have to say and yet once I had put it down I really just wanted to start all over again and I don’t say that too often. It’s not a modern masterpiece but I hope it becomes a contemporary classic.

A book that will: leave you an emotional wreck, make you want to hug it and also start all over again all at once possibly. 9/10

Have you read this and if so what did you think? I know it has had some real Marmite reviews of both loving and loathing but I was so pleasantly surprised! Has anyone read anything else by David Nicholls, I am hoping they are all this brilliant? I have had to put my thinking cap on for some perfect prose partners for this, any suggestions from any of you?


Filed under Books of 2010, David Nicholls, Hodder & Stoughton, Review

69 responses to “One Day – David Nicholls

  1. louise

    I read this one last year and like you I absolutely loved it. It was one of those books that left me lost when I reached the end, I felt I knew the characters so well and I wanted the book to go on forever.

    Other books by David Nicholls that I have read are ‘Starter for Ten’ – great, and ‘The Understudy’ – absolutely awful.

    • I know exactly what you mean by that sense of feeling lost when you have read this book as you are so taken away buy it all you dont want it to end. I might try ‘Starter for Ten’.

  2. I loved it too and gave it a rave review. Ok so its a little chick-lit in places but the overal feel of the book wasn’t like that. I read this on holiday expecting a standard love story and I was also pleasantly surprised.

    I also made the point that the author choose well in picking a day in July. It would have been so easy to pick a day like christmas or new years and then subject the reader to 20 new years eves in a row.

    • You see I didn’t get that chick lit vibe from it. I thought it was a lighter read both in humour and just in general feel but the writing I wouldn’t have called chick lit I thought it was just enjoyable. Maybe I am a little snobby about chick lit.

      I hadnt thought about the choice of date other than why St Swithuns Day? I think Christmas would have been really repetitive as it narrows the scope in July you could be doing anything anywhere.

  3. I agree with you when you say “anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong.” One of the books I most enjoyed reading last year.

    Am I right in recalling that he cheats a little with regard to the one day each year structure, by working in explanations of intervening events? It would be difficult to do otherwise, I suppose.

    • I heard it by the wonderful wonderful Marieke on The First Tuesday Book Club but I could forgive her anything as she makes me laugh so much and she doesnt hold back which I really respect.

      A couple of time he does two chapters on one day other than that not at all.

  4. Your post is so heartfelt, so passionate and emotional that I have to get this book!

    • You won’t regret it Mystica, its just marvellous. Well I hope you don’t regret it… eek!

    • P. Godfrey

      Can I warn you that, while nearly all the reviews have been fabulous, I found this book very boring. The main characters were so uninteresting, such stereotypes, that I just didn’t care what happened to them. I am clearly in the minority here, but I thought I’d just let you know that not everyone loved this book!

  5. Deb

    I’d never heard of Nicholls until this book appeared and, so far, I haven’t read a single bad review of it (and, for the record, I LOVE Marmite, especially on hot buttered toast). I’ve put it on my tbr list and hope that my library will be getting a copy.

    Incidently, isn’t St. Swithin’s Day the date of the Battle of Agincourt? Doesn’t Henry V make reference to it in his “we happy few” speech? Oh, the things that can lodge in the brain over the years!

    • Anthony

      Incidentally, the Battle of Agincourt was fought on 25 October (St Crispin’s day) as was the Battle of Balaclava.

      I enjoyed ‘One Day’ as a light read. Cleverly constructed (though the significance of St Swithin’s day as the framework escapes me) the book cannot fail to resonate emotionally with many people: if unrequited love and ambitions are amongst its themes, the characterisation and humour contrive to make it’feel good’ nevertheless.

      • The battle of balaclava always makes me laugh as a name, I know it wasn’t a funny event. I dont think there was any specific reason for it being St Swithuns Day… maybe it was just a way of making us think about the date more than we should ha.

    • Oooh I love Marmite too so we are very much on a wave length Deb!

  6. Armen

    When it was first published, i read 2 pages and loved it but haven’t read so far, though i really want to, now with your review, I have to.

  7. I’m really looking forward to this one but am still lamentably far down the holds list at the library. Hopefully the anticipation will only make it that much more enjoyable once I do get my hands on a copy!

    • Oh I think the anticipation will definitely add too it. Plus now you have read a review its always good to have a break between someone elses review and reading it for yourself. Well I think it is.

  8. There are books that have done the same for me, and I am really looking forward to reading this — thanks for posting!

  9. Mark Underwood

    IMO a hugely overrated book. I can’t believe the plaudits thrown its way, especially considering how many better books get overlooked. The male protagonist is almost completely unbelievable, and the idea that Emma would allow Dexter as much time to prove what a waste of space he is stretches credulity beyond belief. One thing I’m sure of though is that it’ll prove a hugely successful, but probably, very poorly executed film..

    • I can see where you are coming in terms of some great books getting overlooked but I dont think I could say this doesnt deserve the success its getting as it happened through word of mouth. Plus I guess there is the subjective and personal view point of ‘better’. I dont think this is a masterpiece but its a blooming good read.

  10. I am about halfway through this book, and I’m totally in love with it. It may not end up winning a literary prize, but it is clever and sweet and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It may even end up (depending on how the last half of the book is handled) as one of my favorites this year. No snobby attitudes allowed with this book, please! It deserves to be adored.

    • It is a book you can fall in love with and some books, even the amazingly written ones, you can’t so big praise to Nicholls for that. I agree with you this book shouldnt be tainted with snobbery its brilliant. How funny would it be if it ended on the Man Booker, that wouldnt half annoy people.

  11. I loved this novel, lots of warmth without being too schmaltzy and yes, copious amounts of both laughter and tears. I enjoyed Starter for Ten although that was probably due to a lot of nostalgic elements of university life in the 80s but this one really hits the button.

  12. I am about five ‘days’ in and really enjoying it, I am kinda second guessing where its going…bet I’m completely wrong…good review

  13. I loved this book, though it has gotten mixed reviews. Thanks for emphasizing that it’s not chick lit – maybe it’s the cover that’s pushing that concept?

    I was also jarred by the blurbs and quotes on the front cover (I read an ARC); most called the book “humorous” or “roaringly funny”… and though I loved it, and thought the book had funny and/or awkward moments, I don’t know that I would call it funny overall.

    Great review!

    • I hadn’t really thought about the cover but I think you are right Kerry itdoes have a slight chick lit feel and also it really appears modern but not quite effortlessly.

      I hate the term ‘roaringly funny’ puts me off too.

  14. JoV

    I have just received a notice from Random house that this will be turned into a movie in due course starring Anne Hathaway!! I read it last year and love it.

    Another pair-up to this would be Tony Parson’s chick-lit I suppose. but less mushy than Nicholl’s.

    • Yes Jo I have heard the same thing about Anne Hathaway starring in this. I am not sure what I think about that casting to be honest.

      Parson’s has never appealed to me and hearing you compare him maybe I should try one of his books. Any recommendations?

  15. You had me with ‘a book you want to hug.’ I’m buying this on my next visit to the book shop.

  16. I loved it (I read it recently), but I don’t think I want to read it again because it’ll make me cry (again). While this book isn’t going to change my life, it’s a sweet read and much more absorbing than your standard chick lit.

    Although I’d head that the film will involve them meeting annually, which would make it extra bad.

    • It did make me think I have to say Andrea. I found myself looking at my friendships and relationships with people which I didn’t expect. I have you to thank for making me shove this book higher up the TBR and finally reading it.

  17. I’m looking forward to reading this one… I bought a copy at Waterstone’s today. It’s one of their special offers if you spend more than £10 in store.

  18. Julie

    I’ve got high hopes for this one. Bought a copy in a charity shop at the weekend and the lady on the till abosolutely raved about it and wants me to go back and tell her how I get on!

    • Ooh this would be a delightful charity shop find. In fact if anyone who now reads this and sees it in a charity shop buy it, even if you have it… give it to someone else.

      Love people in secondhand bookshops or charity shops who rave about books, not that I go and shop in those anymore.

  19. Pingback: Book review: ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls « write meg!

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  21. Karen

    Absolutely, without a doubt, one of the best reads of my life. I don’t actually remember a book evoking such a range of emotions or reflections upon life and love in me for at least 20 years. I adored everything about it; ok, I accept, I completely related to Emma (apart from the Mr.Goldaming incident!) which has positively biased my opinion, but I felt instantly compelled to email the author and I started to write the soundtrack in my head shortly after! I should point out here I am not David Nicholl’s stalker and his pet rabbit is completely safe with me! It has influenced my life hugely…I bought the book for my (now ex!) squeeze of the moment…when he barely read the back cover and promptly retorted that it sounded “..over sentimental and Em sounds like a car-crash” I knew we just weren’t meant to be! It has also inspired me to pursue my own creative writing. So I will summarise by saying I think David Nicholl’s is a genius in how he has captured our, sometimes painful, lonely and uninspired, journey through the fog of adult life. Finally, it shouldn’t be pidgeon-holed as chick lit for men…more, lit for those with their own sensitive, passionate, sometimes mundane, story to tell.

  22. Nick

    OK. I’m a 56 year old bloke with four sons and I took this book on a sailing holiday, on an e-reader, sandwiched between Peter Mandelson’s autobiography and Brett Easton Ellis’ Imperial Bedrooms. I took it on the reccomendation of another seriously gruff and unreconstructed 65 year old bloke that I sometimes shoot with. I took a break from Mandelson after the 2001 election to read One Day. It completely overwhelmed me and I read it straight through,laughing and weeping as predicted. Rarely have I been so emotionally engaged by a novel and will certainly read it again in a few weeks time. Personally, I believe Anne Hathaway is a disastrous piece of casting – it should have been Rachel Weisz – but lets see what she does with Em. The director is classy and the rest of the cast are well chosen. Gentlemen, buy this book. You have nothing to lose but your emotional inhibitions.

  23. aebell

    If this is any indication, as soon as I stopped listening to (the Audiobook version of) One Day, I immediately went online to read as much as I could about the book. Still crying, it goes without saying.

    I’m not crazy about the term chick-lit, but I understand what you’re getting at. I think the reason why this book doesn’t give off that vibe is b/c the characters are so relatable. Emma reminded me of me and my friends at that age. We experienced a number of the same ups and downs. And yes, that includes being smart women who fall for men who don’t seem to deserve it.

    I, too, wanted to reread it. And in fact, I think I’ll go and listen to some of my favourite passages. And probably by a print copy of the book too. Along with some tissues.

  24. Kelly Dunn

    I too have never read a book, that touched a cord as well as this, i could relate so much to Emma, that is sad i understand. No matter how many books i read nothing compares, can anyone help in suggesting some thing equally as good to read. Many Thanks

  25. Mat Anderson

    i have just finished reading this book. i don’t read that often and it usually takes me weeks to even attempt to finish a book. but this i finished in four days, and even when i had to work or sleep i didn’t want to put it down. it moved me to tears it made me burst out laughing on the train, and im a very aussie non-emotive guy. this is truly an awesome book possible the best will ever read. i hope that some one tops it as i would love to go on that journey again.

  26. Íris (Iceland)

    I just finished the book and I was in tears and my day was kind of ruined and I continue to go back and think of Em and Dex and Em´s words near the end of the book when she doesn´t seize the day and thinks that in the future she will be braver and say what is on her mind and act on her thoughts… often haven´t I done that? Too often I hesitate and the opportunity passes. I fell in love with this novel and the charachters and here I am reading what others have to say about it and learning about the author.
    I will carry Em and Dex with me 🙂 because their story is so sarcastic, beautiful, ironic, difficult, happy, funny and so so sad…just like our own lives.

  27. Pingback: My BookClub Reviews » Blog Archive » One Day – David Nicholls

  28. William

    I, too, loved this book. How could you not? It made me cry. St Swithun’s Day? Dex was at school at Winchester; St Swithun is buried in the Cathedral next to the College, and the day is important to Wykehamists. The point, surely, is that the legend of rain on his day is meaningless just as trying to predict or even guess the course of our lives from the events of one day is futile.

  29. Callum Barton

    To all the nay-sayers, I’ll say this: I’m a 21 year old male student, a misanthropic pseudo-nihilist (ha!), an Ellroy/Easton Ellis/e.e.cummings(etc)-lover. My cultural tastes are geared towards all things immoral, corrupt, helter-skelter and (I loathe the term, but-) ‘dark’. I’m an unapologetic snob when it comes to beach-read pulps, because such trash only serves to sanitise the themes with which they deal(whether they be of love, death, murder etc). This is literary crime of the highest order, but most certainly NOT something that ‘One Day’ is guilty of.

    I urge anyone who casts off ‘One Day’ as mere pulp, or ‘chick-lit’, to seriously reconsider their slant. It is not a ground breaking feat of transgressive-experimental literature – it is no ‘Ulysses’ or ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ – and nor does it intend to be. It is, instead, a superbly crafted book, one in which the words fall away with such ease that reading it is utterly involving, warm and effortless. This is an astonishingly difficult thing to do – I can only think of a handful of writers (eg. King at his best) who have managed the same.

    A mistake made by many amateur ‘lit-critics’ is to associate ease of readability and ‘simplistic’ storyline with flat, listless and unimportant content. In many cases this association falls flat on its face (read Cormac McCarthy’s ‘the Road’ if you don’t believe me). I was initially dubious of the ‘two-people-one-day-20-years’ plot devise; it appeared clichéd and a tad too cinematic. But once I overcame the initial stylistic hurdles, I discovered a book that does not, unfortunately, dabble in literary cubism, but does offer a hugely substantial and rewarding insight into how British life has changed since 1988. The book is cleverly layered and actually pretty expansive, but most of all hugely, maddeningly heartbreaking. It is about loss of control, opportunities squandered, the sin of taking for granted that which is most important. And, in its best moments, I actually do think it gets quite (hellishly overused term again-) ‘dark’, albeit on an extreme emotional level.

    It really is just a great piece of writing. My only criticism is that having read it, I’m now hopelessly in love with Emma Morley. So I’ll probably be spending the next few months locked away in tears, chugging copious amounts of cornershop wine, noshing frozen enchiladas, blasting out Scott Walker, scribbling mawkish tripe, failing my degree.

    For those of you awash with cynicism, irony and smallness of spirit, give ‘One Day’ a shot, and inject some much needed romanticism into your otherwise boring lives.

    (Nb. If the real Em reads this – get in touch. Luv Dex x)

  30. Pingback: Books of 2010 Part Two… « Savidge Reads

  31. fifi trixiew belle

    Have just finished this and really enjoyed it. I must admit that it did move me to tears (just slightly) and found it very hard to put down. I was especially happy to find it started in Edinburgh as I was brought up there and could visualise the Arthurs seat chapter as have done the climb many a time myself. Will be forcing my friends to read this and cannot recommend it enough and will always remember Em and Dex, Dex and Em. Only problem is now my next read will not stand up to this one!

  32. Sarah

    I found the book mildly depressing and I couldn’t warm to the central characters. Emma is particularly pathetic! For a girl supposed to be so smart she seemed incredibly dumb – I couldn’t see Dexter’s attraction for her whatsoever. A very average read.

  33. Pingback: One Day – David Nicholls – Farm Lane Books Blog

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  36. Amanda

    I just finished this book and loved it! I couldn’t help but fall asleep last night with about three chapters left to go. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the book and just HAD to finish it right then. I can honestly say that I have never woken up in the middle of the night to finish a novel. I agree with other posters here that I laughed, cried, craved for more when it was finished, and seriously considered starting it all over again. It was a really great read and one that will stay with me for a long time.

  37. Pingback: When Em met Dex « Gaskella

  38. John

    My wife asked for this book for Christmas and I read it before her, just finishing it this weekend. I have to say that it was a well written book, very readable with excellent characterisation. However, it’s weird in that of all the books I’ve read, this one appears so deliberately sad that I’ve ended up kind of resenting having read it. I know that sounds strange and I think perhaps it might have something to do with me having gone to University not long after the main characters went and knowing people who really remind me of several characters in the book, so maybe it’s effected me on a very personal level. It’s just that in the end, there’s nothing positive – I mean, what’s the point of it? Many books have sad parts to them, but they are usually just parts of the whole, with many positive, uplifting sections or strands running through them as well. So deliberately sad…kinda makes me angry!

  39. Pingback: One Day – David Nicholls – 9/10 | Reading Fuelled By Tea

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  41. Effie

    Bored…..So annoying i wasted my 1 free audible credit on this. I’m only an hour in and I am falling asleep.

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  47. Konnie

    I have always been looking for a book similar to “One Day” just as you have so while doing so I came across your blog. Although this is a very, very late response, I would like to suggest a book to you that probably is not the same as “One Day” because seriously, what book can come close? So I’ll just go to the next best thing, which is the “feeling” that the book left me with which I think was similar to “One Day” – you might want to give “You Had Me at Hello” by Mhairi McFarlane a try It is such an unknown sleeper, but I consider it one of my all-time faves, and I’m always searching for books similar to that one as well! If you do read it, let me know what you think. I have to say there’s only been two books that had me full out “ugly crying”, and they are “One Day” and “The Fault in Our Stars”. Good Luck!

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