I had watched Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew in bits and pieces of One Day, the movie. I could make neither head nor tail of what the story was about, so I decided to change the channel. Months later, I came across One Day, the novel in a second-hand book shop. And boy, was I surprised to see a still from the movie splashed across the front cover. It was then that I realized that it was David Nicholls’s genius that brought the story to life in both forms.
One Day is the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, two people with different personalities who meet at one point in their life on one particular night – the night of their graduation. The narrative then follows them on the same day in consecutive years – what they are doing, where they are, who they are with, and how their relationship with each other has evolved/devolved. Emma is obviously in love with Dexter, but Dexter being the carefree, cocky, happy-go-lucky guy who ignores the brickbats coming in for his TV presenter job, doesn’t reciprocate.
What follows is a series of encounters, each on the same date every year, the One Day that the title describes. Will Dexter be able to lose his cockiness and see Emma as a person with feelings rather than just a distraction from everyday life? Will Emma, who is secure in her life, other than the part with Dexter in it, be able to knock some sense into Dexter’s thick head and bring peace to herself?
One Day is written in classic David Nicholls style. It has heartbreak and humor, comedy and tragedy, getting lost in life and finding wings to ambition in such large amounts that it makes you cry while bringing a smile to your face. The book is set in London, but the effect it has is global. Relationships are not easy, and this truth is universal. They need work from both ends. Sometimes, it takes months, or even years to come to a point where both people in the relationship are happy and comfortable with each other. And One Day displays this fact admirably.
The other Nicholls book that I had read (and reviewed) was Us – a book that, with its dark humor, brings the world crashing down around you while letting it afloat. It’s comic and tragic at the same time – a feat that not many authors can pull off. But David Nicholls, in his vague manner, makes a lot of sense in his descriptions. As the title suggests, One Day a year is enough for us to know and understand where Emma and Dexter stand, both, in their own lives, and with respect to each other.
It is really easy to understand the quirks of both Emma and Dexter. You know where your sympathies and empathies like. You know why they do what they do. And you somehow understand what they are about to do next. And that’s maybe the greatest power that Nicholls wields – the ability to put into words qualities that can be translated perfectly by the reader.
At one point in the narrative, you might feel like there are forced stereotypes from other corners. But the characters and their stances easily deflect them and fall into a groove of their own – something that I find quietly empowering. It’s not just women who need to deflect stereotypes. It’s also the men.
One Day was written 2009, a time that now feels like ages ago. But it holds good now as it was relevant then and that makes it all the more beautiful. If you can read a book now about the 90’s and the early 2000s, and still identify with what Emma and Dexter are going through, it really means the book is cracker. Something that tells you to keep it close. Something that helps you learn from it – about human tendencies, changes, and ideologies.
Because of the depth that every page and every event in the book carries, it is not difficult to fall in love with the book. With all its somberness, sobriety, and dark humor that is a David Nicholls signature, One Day is a book that I would any day recommend to people looking for a dash of truth to pull them out of the rut or push them back in. It does both marvelously.
So read it, love it, treasure it. All I know is you won’t regret reading it!
Rating: 5/5 stars
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