When I first started doing reviews on this blog I decided that unless something was very new I wouldn’t constrain myself to not revealing spoilers. However up until now I don’t think I’ve given away anything.
Up until now because I don’t really feel I can talk about One Day by David Nicholls, and the impact it had on me, without talking about the ending. Just in case there is anyone out there who has alighted on this review and doesn’t want to be spoiled I’ll be using the WordPress click-here-for-more thingy.
So anyway – here goes.
I first came into contact with David Nicholls work when I saw the movie Starter for Ten which is based on his book of the same name. I enjoyed the movie – it’s a comedy of love, romance and University Challenge set in the 80s – but never read the book. However when I saw this book in the bookshop I was intrigued and so bought it (although I got the ebook version for my Kindle).
It’s about the relationship between two friends – starting as they’re just leaving Uni in 1988 – told in a series of chapters that take place on the same day of consecutive years. This is a device that works well I think. It gives a structure to the book even if it then feels a little episodic. But like the episodes of a good TV show they have their own stories, things to enjoy, whilst developing on-going plotlines and characters. There’s a sense in which you see these two people grow up and mature. If that sounds a little dull it’s not. I found it both funny and touching – but then (as has been mentioned before) I’m at the right stage of life to be considering things like how my life has developed so far.
If I have criticisms it’s when the current episode isn’t as funny/moving/interesting in and of itself. That may be a sense of humour thing. This could be another of those comedies I like but don’t laugh at.
The characters are likeable – surprisingly so in one case. I felt my sympathy more with Emma, the female main character, rather than Dexter. But Dexter does some terrible things and you still like him – which is how he’s supposed to be.
I dithered about what to score it. On Goodreads I gave it 4/5 stars so I guess it should be 7 or 8. I’m giving it a reluctant 8.
8/10 – might have been higher but for… well see below if you don’t mind being spoiled.
Pages read so far: 1592
Pages in completed books: 1474
So why a reluctant 8?
Let me first say that whilst I enjoyed the book, it had a certain predictability about it. Emma and Dexter were friends who both in their heart of hearts wanted to be more. The engine driving the story forward was “how and when are they finally going to get together“. There are a limited number of ways you can end that story and so when, about 2/3rds the way through, they finally do get together I made a guess about what would happen next based on the remaining options. A guess that I didn’t want to be right but turned out to be.
Emma dies. (I admit I didn’t guess it would be her but I did say to myself “one of them must die“)
And it’s sad and heart-wrenching which I guess it’s supposed to be. And Dexter is a mess and takes years to come to terms with it – which is both realistic and moving. But it’s such a change in gear, such a wrench, such a tonal shift that it’s hard not to feel cheated. It’s the kind of book that you read for light relief. It’s a romantic comedy. It’s fun and readable, a guilty pleasure. Until it kicks you in the gut. And then drags out the ending. Yes believable. Yes well done. But not fun.
It’s like When Harry Met Sally turning into Terms of Endearment 20 mins before the end.
So I think it’s a testament to how well it’s written, to how good the first part is – and the second but in a different way – that I didn’t hurl it across the room, and that I still give it an 8.
A reluctant, but deserved, 8/10