Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: One Day by David Nicholls

One Day
by David Nicholls
Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries
Published Date: June 15, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-47471-1
448 Pages - Paperback
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary: It's 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. They both know that the next day, after college graduation, they must go their separate ways. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. As the years go by, Dex and Em begin to lead separate lives, lives very different from the people they once dreamed they'd become. And yet, unable to let go of that special something that grabbed onto them that first night, an extraordinary relationship develops between the two.
Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day July 15th of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.

My Thoughts: One Day opens with Emma and Dexter spending the night (and the next day) together after meeting, for the first time, at a party earlier that evening celebrating their college graduations. Emma is attracted to Dexter's good looks, having seen him around campus several times. Dexter, who is very drunk, likes pretty girls like Emma.

Dexter is a party boy who admittedly wants to avoid reality and responsibility for as long as possible. He has very vague plans for his life which include traveling for a couple of years and then, somehow, becoming rich and famous.. Emma, on the other hand, is interested in politics and causes. She wants to make a difference, change the "bit of world around her". She doesn't care about being rich, popular or cool. She wants to live passionately and experience new things. But she isn't sure how. Emma and Dexter sound very much like new college graduates, a little lost, a little unsure about the future as they go their separate ways.

The author, David Nicholls, employs an interesting technique to move the story along, checking in on Emma and Dexter every year on the same day, July 15th. It's initially fun to anticipate the following year and wonder what they've been up to. Will this be the year they get together? Have they found good jobs? Things to do they're passionate about? Has one of them met their true love? Emma struggles for a few years trying to figure out what she wants to do and how to live up to her lofty ideals. She becomes depressed and doubts herself. She still likes Dexter but forces herself to be just friends with him because he only wants fun, pretty girls. Emma spends a lot of time moping, wondering why nothing good happens for her. She often doesn't bother to work hard or try to make things happen. Emma lets life plod along and pass her by for a few years.

Dexter's life, on the other hand, takes off exactly as he wants. He returned from traveling with a job in the television industry. He's making money and having a great time. He doesn't have to work hard or struggle. And, in Dexter's estimate, the television industry is filled with good looking and important people, which is very important to him.

Emma and Dexter settled into a close friendship. They speak and get together frequently. Emma decided to suppress her romantic feelings for Dexter since he isn't look for a serious relationship. He wants everything in his life to be fun, easy-going and light. He drinks a lot and uses drugs occasionally, spending most nights out at parties and bars or clubs. He wants nothing to do with sadness, hardship, anything complicated or messy. He is extremely immature and superficial.

I know I'm in the minority here but I didn't care much for One Day. The first few chapters were amusing, funny and entertaining but it wasn't long before I was tired of Emma's moping, her insecurities and lack of initiative. Rather than work hard to get out of her rut, she languishes in a Tex-Mex restaurant as a waitress. Her taste in men is terrible, too. I'd hoped when she didn't tell Dexter how she felt about him in one of the letters she sent him while he was traveling, she'd stand up to him when they were out together. I wanted her to tell him she didn't want him regaling her with stories of his female conquests. She wanted him to notice her. Instead, Emma responds whenever he calls her and "needs" to see her to complain about something or brag about his life. It drives her mad that Dexter never asks her about her life and what's up with her but she tolerates his selfish behavior and is available at his beck and call.

Emma, finally at her wit's end with Dexter, gets involved with Ian, who fancies himself a stand-up comic. The problem is, he's very rarely funny. Ian treats Emma well but, although she cares for him, she doesn't love him and finds his behavior endlessly irritating. Emma chooses not to tell Ian how she feels but puts up with him rather than be alone. She doesn't value herself or believe she deserves the best. After several "years" of Emma behaving this way, it became tiring and grated on my nerves. And how she lived with Ian as long as she did, who practiced his "comedy" every waking moment yet failed to even slightly improve, is beyond me.

I could put up with Emma and actually grew to like her a little more as she matured and took control of her life. And she is a breath of fresh air compared to Dexter. Dexter's character becomes much less likable and increasingly more aggravating until the mere sight of his name on the page made me groan. Dexter's obsession with having fun, looking good and being surrounded by good-looking, important people become his only purpose. Well, that and consuming alcohol. His drinking escapades as he gets older are no longer funny but pathetic and annoying. There are at least two episodes in the book (I don't want to give the details in case some of you haven't read the book) in which Dexter's drinking and subsequent behavior shocked and disgusted me. In fact, I thought he should have been arrested for one of them. I have little to no patience for Dexter behaving in such a selfish, uncaring manner, especially when he hurts and harms people he supposedly loves, although that, too, is questionable with Dexter.

I read several reviews of this book and words like cute, funny, memorable, wonderful and sad were used about this story. I agree that One Day is sad. There are several situations, moments and characters that can only be described as such. Characters that are also pathetic, whiney and generally unhappy. Nicholls technique of dropping in on Emma and Dexter every July 15th is interesting and exciting initially, but soon the years start to drag and this vehicle makes the book too long. Dexter's drinking and childish behavior is unchanged year after year. He fails to mature and become an adult, to be responsible and respect his friends and family. Emma, even when she finally discovers something she's passionate about and starts enjoying her life, still behaves in a manner inconsistent with a woman who values herself and believes she deserves to be treated well. Although I enjoyed parts of the book, overall it left me with the idea that life is challenging and difficult without much to look forward to. In other words: life's a bitch and then you die.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the Shelf Awareness Newsletter for review.


  1. Sorry this one didn't work for you.

  2. I've seen a few reviews for this one - mostly good but it really isn't anything that's jumping out at me to read. Sorry it didn't work for you. Hope your next pick is better.

  3. bermudaonion: Thanks Kathy!

    We can't like them all, I guess!

  4. Darlene: Thank you! I was surprised that I didn't like this book esp. with all the positive reviews I've read. But it is what it is! On to the next one, right?!

  5. Actually I've read a few reviews not that aren't wild about this one. It's funny how that happens sometimes. The first few reviews you read will love a book and then you'll start to get people that aren't so wild about it.

  6. I read (well listened) to this book a few week ago after reading a great review from a blogger. I usually enjoy books she recommends... and she mentioned it brought her to tears.

    I'm with you... didn't like it much and wouldn't recommend it to a friend. Here's my review and if you want to feel better... click through to Gerbera Daisy's review (she tells it like it is, its funny).

  7. Great review Amy - thanks for letting me know why you didn't enjoy it, while also trying to point out some positive things. Very balanced and fair. Do you think you will forever groan with annoyance whenever you see the name Dexter now? ;0)

  8. I really like this one ... but I agree with many of your points ... but that IS what I liked about it.

    Dexter definitely becomes very unlikable ... which is why I think Emma kind of writes him off and settles for Ian for a bit. It took Dexter FOREVER to see Emma the way she always saw him. I could actually relate to so much of what happened here so I think it didn't bother me as much.