“I can imagine you at forty,” she said, a hint of malice in her voice. “I can picture it right now.”
He smiled without opening his eyes. “Go on then.”
15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways.
So where will they be on this one day next year?
And the year after that? And every year that follows?
Twenty years, two people, one day.
As with perhaps his most famous work to date, Starter for Ten, in One Day David Nicholls yet again succeeds in giving us flawed, essentially decent and very human characters that it’s impossible not to care about. In this case, it’s a ‘not quite Romeo and Juliet’ for our times: Dexter and Emma. One Day is their story, told on exactly the same date over a number of years. We see how they have changed, grown up (or not so much sometimes in Dexter’s case) and where their life has taken them on this same day each year.
This is a narrative technique that could well become wearing, but Nicholls really makes it work. As each year moves on, the reader sees how much or how little the two main characters’ lives have changed, and because Dex and Em are so well fleshed out and feel so very real (I would go so far as to say we all know, or all are a Dexter or an Emma) the missing months are easy to imagine, and where filling this in is necessary in the story for exposition, Nicholls never makes this seem clumsy.
I know that given how quickly I raced through this book, just how much I would hate for anything to be spoiled for me, so I won’t give too much away. The whole joy of reading this book is wondering what happens to the characters year after year. Dexter and Emma ‘get together’ on their last night of University. Dexter is a callow young man leading a seemingly charmed life, and Emma is a bright woman who is caustic to a fault, with a very self-deprecating set of barriers to defend herself against the world. Will they stay friends? Will they fall in love? Will they always be there for each other as the years march on? Once you’ve finished this book I bet you a fiver that every time you see someone reading this on the train you’ll take a look to see how far through they are, and how happy or sad they look.*
Whatever happens to these characters, whether you’re pleased for them, or feel like shouting at them through the pages to stop being so stupid, you’ll believe in it. I can’t think of any higher praise for One Day than it being one of those rare stories that you feel a genuine sense of loss when you finish reading and are no longer with the characters anymore.
Oh, and if you don’t cry by the end of the book you are made of stone.
* Disclaimer: I do not bet you a fiver. Please do not email me asking for a fiver.