Tuesday, 2 August 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

5 Stars - but really so good that stars don't cut it for a rating!

One of the most heartbreaking books I've ever read. But so honest and heartfelt. This story is one that will forever stay with me.


Writing a review for One Day is really hard. First off, this book made me laugh broke my heart, had me wondering why the heck life could be so cruel and then finally at the end realising that throughout all the moments in life, sometimes everything is just bittersweet and that maybe that’s okay.

Only a handful of books have affected me in the way One Day has and this book will go down as one of my all time favourites. It may not be for everyone and I think that a lot of this books punch has to do with your experience of those precious years after you graduate university. I’m in that spot now, the place in life where you’ve just graduated your last big step in school, you have a degree and suddenly real life starts. I think that it’s at this moment most in life when we all feel like anything is possible, the world is ours for the taking and there isn’t anything that can’t be achieved. Dexter and Emma are both at this place in life in 1988, the beginning of this story and over the next twenty years, Nicholls documents a day in their lives (the anniversary of the day they first met – July 15th, 1988) as they struggle, waste time, grow lonely, create amazing memories, question their life path, find their way and make amends. I won’t go into too many more details about the plot for a few reasons, 1. It would mean giving spoilers which I really can’t do – read the book if you wish to know more. 2. I can’t accurately describe the depth and feeling that is packed into this story. I wouldn’t want to try for fear of not doing this novel justice in my description.

The element I was so impressed by was the absolute unflinching honesty of this story. Nicholls doesn’t try to pull punches or give the readers their neatly tied up ending. There isn’t a Hollywood happy ending for all, this book is about real life, real loss and heartache and it does an amazing job of making the reader feel excruciatingly connected to these two characters and their lives and friendship with one another. Dex and Em go through good times and bad, ups and down, both together and separately in their respective lives and they have quite a few near misses. All the while as a reader you’re taken along for the ride, hoping against hope that these two can get their acts together at the same time and make it work, because as you read more and more about their love for one another – both platonic and romantic you come to realize that if there is only one person meant for you in this life, then its Dex and Emma who are meant for one another – everyone else is just there to pass the time with. That may sound super sappy and idealistic, but it’s true for this story especially. It’s the power of a good book that through the characters, readers experience so emotionally the moments of their lives described in detail.. Nicholls has a great way with words and I felt instinctively like I was living in England and a part of that culture while reading. Nicholls has such an understanding of time and place and makes the reality of 1988-2007 so real. What I mean by that is that throughout the story as readers are taken through the years, you have a real understanding of life in the late eighties, the way that things worked, the restlessness that young people felt after graduating and all the experiences that tended to flow after that as a result of said restlessness. I’m sure the same can be said for people today in some ways, but the influence of technology, and all these modern day fares weren’t available in the late eighties and early nineties and it makes a difference to the way people lived their lives.

Like I said before, I laughed and cried during my reading of this book. For the most part it was laughter because Dex and Emma are both hilarious characters. Put them together and their banter is amazing and a joy to read. I loved every single one of their interactions even if more than once they broke my heart. By the end of this book I was blubbering like a baby and it didn’t help that I ended up finishing this book in the early stages of a five hours train ride home (no place to run and hide or burrow under a blankie to nurse my broken heart.) You feel everything in this book and the power lies in Nicholls' ability to show without cliché or overused and stylized descriptions the true loneliness we can feel as individuals thrust into the world, expected to make a go of some sort of meaningful life. Both Emma and Dex are at a loss for quite a few years and they both fall into careers out of something akin to chance. For one it goes a bit more smoothly than the other although both experience the heartache and wrenching loneliness of certain periods in their lives. Without giving anything away, I will say that I wondered more than once how hard it must be to love someone so completely and yet you know that a life together is almost impossible because of where the other person is in their life. When you can’t connect because of missed opportunities or chances, because you didn’t say what you felt in a key moment, you miss out on the possibilities life offers and really that might be the saddest thing of all, because who knows where that chance might have led you.

I don’t want to make this book seem all doom and gloom because it isn’t. It’s highly entertaining and a very enjoyable read about the meaning of true friendship and what it takes to sustain that friendship through the years. The reason I talk so much about the darker side of this story – or maybe the more serious side is a more appropriate word – is because their definitely is an undertone of seriousness. Nicholls himself writes that his inspiration for this story emerged from Thomas Hardy’s writing and for anyone who has read Hardy you know what this means. Hardy is a fan of putting his characters through the ringer. His stories rarely end well and are more often than not bittersweet, if not just bitter.

One Day has a bittersweet ending that makes you smile through your tears. It ends so beautifully and perfectly for the rest of the context of the story.

Without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read, ever.
One thing I will say is that with the movie set for release on August 19th, if you plan to see the film in theatres, do yourself a MAJOR favour and please read the book first. From the previews I think that the director and writers have stayed pretty close to the flow of the book, but a Hollywood rendition is never as good as the novel and there is so much depth to the characters and their life experiences that can’t be translated into film. The subtle nuances that make this book are worth reading before you experience the movie. On another note, having read the book, the movie is cast perfectly. Jim Sturgess is the absolute perfect Dex and Anne Hathaway – despite the fact that she isn't actually British, is exactly Emma Morely. Anne can definitely pull off the sass, unconsious beauty and loveable quarkiness of this heroine. Can't wait to see these two on screen together bringing these amazing, frustrating but thoroughly loveable characters to life.

This book is beautiful start to finish.

1 comment:

  1. Great review!! I've been really curious about this book but its potential for sadness has kind of kept me away at this point....As much as I find Hollywood endings exasperating at times...I'm a happily ever after kind of girl. Your review has motivated me to maybe give One Day a chance after all though! The fact that it made you both laugh and cry makes me think that this book is probably not as depressing as I originally anticipated! I'm going to put it on hold at the library now :)