Thursday, January 20, 2011

book review: One Day by David Nicholls

One Day (Vintage Contemporaries Original)The backstory: One Day was one of Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Novels of 2010.

The basics: Beginning with one shared night in 1998, One Day follows Dex and Emma for twenty years. On June 15 each year, we peek in on their lives and see where they are.

My thoughts: I sat down to read the first chapter of One Day before bed. Instead, I read the first 40% of it, saying, "just one more year" at the end of each chapter. When I woke up, I finished it. This book consumed me for the 18 hours I spent with it (seven of those were sleeping). Something about Dex and Emma transfixed me. They graduated from college fourteen years before I did, but their experiences felt like mine. I saw so much of my 22-year-old self (or rather the apartment I had at that age):
"She had that arty girl's passion for photomontage too; flash-lit snaps of college friends and family jumbled in amongst the Chagalls and Vermeers and Kandinskys, the Che Guevaras and Woody Allens and Samuel Becketts. Nothing here was neutral, everything displayed an allegiance or a point of view. The room was a manifesto, and with a sigh Dexter recognised her as one of those girls who used 'bourgeois' as a term of abuse."
Granted I favored Miro and Matisse to Vermeer, but I loved Chagall and Kandisnky. I took Linklater and Kevin Smith over Woody Allen, but otherwise, it was spot on me. And so many defiant liberals I know. Yet the quotation continues on to speak to the now 30-year-old me:
"He could understand why 'fascist' might have negative connotations, but he liked the word 'bourgeois' and all that it implied. Security, travel, nice food, good manners, ambition; what was he meant to be apologising for?"
Nicholls did a lovely job of acutely observing the little truths of life:
"She doesn't want an amusing story, she wants change, a break, not anecdotes. Her life has been stuffed with anecdotes, an endless string of the bastards, now she wants something to go right for once. She wants success, or at least the hope of it ." 
It is perhaps the perfect book for me at this age in my life. I'm close enough to the early twenties to remember (and laugh at myself), but I'm still earnest enough to appreciate the truth:
"All that yearning and anguish and passion had been replaced by a steady pulse of pleasure and satisfaction and occasional irritation, and this seemed to be a happy exchange; if there had been moments in her life when she had been more elated, there had never been a time when things had been more constant."
What is it about British male writers that can capture the pop culture experience of youth, make me laugh out loud and be just literary enough to make me take fervent notes? In many ways, the experience of reading this book reminded me of my first experiences with Nick Hornby: High Fidelity and Fever Pitch. If I were given this novel blind, I might have guessed it was a forgotten Nick Hornby novel from the early 2000's. It may not be a novel for everyone, but I utterly adored, immediately bought a copy for one friend and recommended it to quite a few more with eager Facebook messages saying, "Read One Day by David Nicholls. Now. You'll thank me later. The end."

The film version will be out in July, and I think it will translate beautifully. Anne Hathaway was Emma in my head. David Nicholls wrote the screenplay. The best news of all: Lone Scherfig is directing. Lone just happened to direct my all-time favorite movie, An Education, which should have earned Carey Mulligan an Oscar last year, but I digress.

Favorite passage: "She had reached a turning point. She no longer believed that a situation could be made better by writing a poem about it."

The verdict: One Day is my favorite book of 2011 (so far), and I've enjoyed everything I've read this year. There's something quite magical about these characters for me. Nicholls straddles the lines of literary and popular fiction beautifully to create a funny, poignant and utterly lovely novel.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 448 pages
Publication date: It's in paperback now (and only $5 for the Kindle edition.)
Source: I bought it for my Kindle.

Have you read either of the other novels by David Nicholls? Would I enjoy them just as much?

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  1. I've been very iffy about this one... like I haven't been drawn to it except that I see it on "best of" lists everywhere. But I totally trust your opinion so now I'm thinking I need to read this, lol. I do have an ARC that has languished on my pile... hm, I'll try to get to it before July I guess!

  2. I've finally managed to get myself a copy of this and it sounds like I need to read it soon! I've read quite a few reviews of it, but they've been for the most part quite mixed. Yours makes it sound like I will relate to and enjoy this book.

  3. I purchased this a couple of days ago and stopped after a few pages in. I felt that the characters were so stereotypical, boring even, that it lacked any sort of creativity. Plus, Dexter, in my opinion, is flat out disgusting. However, reading your review forces me to change my perspective a bit. I really want to see the film, so I'm going to try and look at it in a different light. Thanks!

  4. I love the sound of this book, and really love the quotes you provided, especially your favorite passage. I think it would be interesting to read the book and see the movie to compare the differences and similarities, and I am going to be trying to read this one soon. It's nice to hear that you were able to connect so deeply to the characters and story in this one! Wonderful review, by the way!

  5. I have this one on my shelf and knowing that its being made into a movie will definitely press me to read it before then. Knowing that you loved it so much will make me read it even faster!

  6. I just skimmed down to see that you rated it a 5! I just bought it and want to read it before the movie comes out. Glad you liked it!

  7. Ooo, you make this one sound irresistible!

  8. This book is next on my book club's list to read. I've heard good and bad things about the book as well, but I'm anxious to read it.

  9. Yay, I am so happy to read a great review of this that picks up on some of the stuff that appeals to me about the book (the growing up, appreciating the past). I've been thinking about read it, but read a few meh reviews that turned me off a bit. Now it goes back on the TBR pile :)

  10. I just got this book in the mail - I do need to start it soon. It doesn't sound like I should delay in reading this one :)

  11. I am so glad to see an enthusiastic review of this book - I read it a few weeks ago and LOVED it! I was disappointed to see that others didn't agree!


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!