I read One Day on the recommendation of a fellow bookworm who thought it was a good book but hated the ending. My boss at the bookstore loves this book, has recommended it a lot of times, and is looking forward to the movie with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. So it’s been on my TBR list for a while, and when my bookworm friend lent me her copy, I was excited to read it.
One Day follows the relationship between Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew over the course of twenty years, depicting snapshots of their lives on the same day (July 15th) each year. They meet in 1988, have sex, and set off to pursue different lives after graduation — Emma as an aspiring writer and Dexter as someone who wants to travel the world and become famous somehow. Their relationship shifts from romance to best friendship, and their lives turn out very different from how they’d imagined it in university. Taking a yearly snapshot is an interesting concept, allowing Nicholls to show gradual character development and long-lasting effects of decisions that characters make. Nicholls is a talented writer, and his characters are complex, interesting people you can imagine being friends with.
That being said, it took me a long time to get into One Day. I found myself bored for the first half of the book. Nothing to do with Nicholls’ writing, and I have to admit, the behaviour of characters and development of Emma and Dexter’s relationship felt realistic. It actually took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t enjoying the book, and I realized that while the yearly snapshot approach is an interesting idea, it made me find the story meandering. I just wanted something to happen already. While I acknowledged the Emma-Dexter chemistry, I found the single day narrative too abrupt — I’d just be getting invested in a plot thread when the day ends, I flip the page and I have to hear about the results through flashback. It didn’t help that I found the young, politically active Emma annoying. Dexter accuses her of being condescending and a know-it-all, and I had to agree. That made me a bit wary about the upcoming movie — I can imagine finding it more annoying on screen.
As Emma and Dexter grow older, however, and become a bit more settled in their respective lives, I found myself becoming more interested in the story. Secondary characters started to become more significant, and Emma and Dexter’s desire to be with each other (not just romantically, but also to connect more deeply as friends) becomes more urgent. That’s what I love most about Emma and Dexter’s relationship: it’s based on a deep friendship; they’re soul mates in a similar (though much less melodramatic) way as Cathy and Heathcliff. It’s a wonderful, touching love story, and Nicholls depicts their connection well.
Like my friend, I hated the ending. Without giving away any spoilers, I just have to say I found it unnecessary. Fortunately, Nicholls is a gifted writer and he handles it much better than I imagine others would have. I also think the one day snapshot format helped him pull off this ending well.
Would I recommend this book? Sure. I can see why so many readers like this book. Despite the movie poster image, One Day is more than just a romance. It’s a well-written look at how two individuals grow up, and, more importantly, grow up together.