Review: One Day, by David Nicholls

>>Published: June 2009

>>Finally got around to it: March 2011

For a moment, Dexter had a fleeting but perfectly clear memory of himself at his mother’s funeral, curled up on the bathroom floor while Emma held onto him and stroked his hair. Yet somehow he had managed to treat this as nothing, to throw it all away for dross. He followed a little way behind her. ‘Come on, Em, we’re still friends, aren’t we? I know I’ve been a little weird, it’s just…’ She stopped for a moment, but didn’t turn round, and he knew that she was crying. ‘Emma?’

Then very quickly she turned, walked up to him and pulled his face into hers, her cheek warm and wet against his, speaking quickly and quietly in his ear, and for one bright moment he thought he was to be forgiven.

‘Dexter, I love you so much. So, so much, and I probably always will.’ Her lips touched his cheek. ‘I just don’t like you anymore. I’m sorry.’

And then she was gone, and he found himself on the street, standing alone in this back alley trying to imagine what he would possibly do next.

***

Dex and Em, Em and Dex—like a double helix, dance partners criss-crossing in and out of each other’s life at every high, every low, and every moment in between. Whether years have passed apart, in silence, or living within minutes of one another, they are still in each other’s thoughts every day, unable to ever cleanse themselves of the possibly wondrous, possibly terrible truth: they’re meant to be.

David Nicholls’ One Day is, upon first glance, a gimmick: it chronicles the friendship and love of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley as they connect, disconnect, grow close, grow apart, find love, lose love, and discover themselves for nearly twenty years, from their first hand-up-the-skirt rendezvous in 1988 to the (almost) present day. Each chapter takes place on July 15th of the following year; the chapters are like postcards, snapping moments in time and taking us through the critical points of where they are, where they’ve been, and what they’ve been through over the past year. A gimmick of this sort is a delicate thing to structure an entire novel around, but Nicholls does a wonderful job by allowing Emma and Dexter to grow naturally into adulthood, succeeding and failing in grand fashion, but never dehumanizing them or pulling them drastically out of sorts to increase tension—their wants, desires and personalities are more than enough to accomplish such a feat. They mature beautifully, realistically, and admirably. These are very human, relatable characters, and they carry what could have been a simple gimmick to a painful, disarming conclusion—painful, yet hopeful for the future.

The personalities of Emma and Dexter—and the family and friends that surround them—are given an additional boost through Nicholls’ writing. He’s given them the voices of reincarnates in trainers and Velcro-strapped shoes: old souls that connect on an intangible, unspeakable level, with wry sarcasm and a finish-each-others-sentences joie de vie, yet still know so little about their own bodies and minds and ambitions that they spend as much time hurting one another as they do falling in love.

One Day is a believable love story. This isn’t Shakespearean: they aren’t star-crossed lovers that fall in love at the first heart-stopping glance; there are no I-saw-her-from-halfway-across-the-world-and-felt-the-spark-in-my-heart moments that could only exist in literature (or the movies). Emma and Dexter’s love is one that blooms with the authenticity that only time can provide. It’s sometimes maddening to watch them connect at the core, embrace one another on the dance floor for three-fourths of a bar, and finish in the arms of others, because you know their arms will link again, and they’ll catch each other’s stare for a moment, and they’ll remember what it is that they’ve spent the better part of two decades trying to forget: that they’re fated for one another.

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One thought on “Review: One Day, by David Nicholls

  1. What an insightful review. This line: “Emma and Dexter’s love is one that blooms with the authenticity that only time can provide.” pretty much sums up the book beautifully.

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