After what has felt like weeks of reading fiction aimed at Young Adults, mainly in preparation for my Carnegie Medal Enrichment at school, I was in dire need of a break and something slightly more grown up. Due to the craziness of school at the moment, I chose a reread, David Nicholls’ One Day.
One Day follows the lives of Dexter and Emma from their first proper meeting in July 1988 when they are both on the cusp of leaving university in Edinburgh until the year 2007. Every year on the anniversary of the first true meeting, July 15th (St. Swithin’s Day), Nicholls dives into their lives and we discover how Dexter and Emma are coping as they move through their twenties, thirties and into middle age. We experience the highs and lows of their love life’s and careers; from affairs, marriages, deaths and births, we witness Dexter and Emma at their best and at their worst. Although their paths venture off in different directions; one to exotic lands and the life as a TV presenter, the other a dire job in a Mexican restaurant, teaching and eventually an author, the pair are inextricably linked through the good times and the bad.
I cannot express how much I LOVE this book! It is truly amazing, beautiful and tragic all rolled in to 435 pages that I could not tear myself away from, not on the first reading and certainly not on the second. When I first read One Day a couple of years ago I just remember a bundle of emotions and wanting to talk to absolutely everyone I could about how much I loved this book. I even dragged friends to the bookshop to buy it I was that confident that they would love it as much as I would. There are so many marvellous things about this book that make it one of a kind, and I am going to rave about a few of them and discuss a few of my favourite, stand out moments (hence the spoiler alert!)
The structure of One Day is truly unique, returning to the same pair of characters year in, year out on the same day. We do get to read about what has happened in their lives during the course of the previous year as it would be unrealistic for all major, significant events to take place on July 15th, not to mention a tad spooky! This is a fantastic way to learn about, and grow to love (and loathe) the characters; events happen in a believably time scale, making them more realistic, and for me personally, more engaging. I can truly believe that people change careers, marry, divorce, move house etc over the course of nineteen years, as opposed to one or two. I also enjoy the sense on continuity with the structure; you know we are going to meet Dexter and Emma on July 15th each year, but you have no idea what direction their lives would have taken.
Throughout this novel I found myself experiencing a whole host of emotions and I have a few favourite scenes I want to share. Towards the start of the novel Dexter is off travelling and Emma is slaving away in a grotty restaurant. She writes him long, emotional letters often only receiving a one sentence postcard in return. But when Dexter finally writes a letter worthy of Emma, it is worth the wait. The sentiments and feelings he expresses in his letter are beautiful, and yes I am aware he is drunk, but that is beside the point. Perhaps my favourite section is as follows:
‘You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle.
I love how Nicholls writes a beautiful and heart warming letter, yet it is still interspersed with humour. I also love the sheer irony of the fact Dexter expresses all these feelings and yet carelessly loses the letter, leaving it inside a copy of Howards End in a bar in India. Imagine how different their lives could have been if only he had posted it?
And yet in the face of all this will they, won’t they romance is quite possibly one of the most tragic and shocking deaths in modern literature (a bold statement I know, but bear with me). Finally, after years of going back and forth, of talking and not talking, of lusting after one another and admitting defeat, Dexter and Emma get together. Yay! I’m reading it and I am over joyed, yes love does triumph eventually and everyone will live happily ever after. Sadly life isn’t as perfect as a fairy tale. Sixteen years after we first meet them, just as they are settling down and hoping for a family, Emma is killed in a road accident. Did anyone see it coming? No! Did anyone really believe what they were reading? Probably not! I know everyone I have spoken to who has read it was shocked, had to go back and read it again because they couldn’t believe it. This is why I love One Day so much, just when you think the perfect ending is going to happen, Nicholls rips it away from you. It truly shocks you; even the second time round and I knew it was coming I could feel my eyes welling up in anticipation and sobbed my heart out. How could he be so cruel? This is the beauty of it, literature is supposed to take you on an emotional roller coaster, sometimes you get the ending you hope for and sometimes you are left shocked to the core, but it makes you feel something, and that, for me, is the magic of reading. And the best part? In a similar fashion to Life of Pi, One Day is such a beautifully tragic novel that I have no desire to watch the film at all; the book is perfection and you can’t argue with that.