One Day by David Nicholls: A Review

“Dexter, I love you so much. So, so much, and I probably always will. I just don’t like you anymore. I’m sorry.”

One Day: film vs. book

This doesn’t happen that often, but this time I watched the film before I read the book. I actually only discovered the book through the film. The film adaptation has its good moments, and I like both main actors, but it isn’t anything special. Having now read the book, I really think it didn’t do it justice. And why have an American actress portray a (Northern) British character? I like Anne Hathaway, but not everyone is Renée Zellweger when it comes to faking accents.

The Story of One Day

Emma and Dexter (Em and Dex) know each other from uni in Edinburgh (they’re both English, though). They barely know each other, but they end up spending the graduation night together. They remain friends after that, but the fact that they’re living very different lives and the mutual attraction that never fades make their friendship hard and full of ups and downs.

Each chapter covers a period of their lives, from their early twenties in the eighties up to their late thirties at the beginning of the two-thousands. Most of the story takes place in London. Emma is the one who’s lost after uni, unsure where or who she’s supposed to be, while Dexter is thriving. However, many things happen in between, and the roles are suddenly reversed, Emma now being the one who’s doing better.

one day

The relatability

The way in which Nicholls manages to put Emma’s struggles in her early twenties and Dexter’s struggles in his early thirties is incredible and real. I’m sure that every human being will find themselves in the fear, confusion, loneliness, regret and nostalgia that the two main characters experience at different points of their lives. Nicholls beautifully captures the longing for each other that the main characters haven’t been able to shake since the night of graduation. The reader witnesses their inability to leave each other alone, to forget about one another, and yet also their lack of courage and power to admit it and finally give in to it.

Emma is smart and funny, and Dex is cool and loving, even if he’s an idiot most of the time. They’re so very different, but still, neither of them manages to ever love anyone as much as they love each other. Couples like this do exist, and Nicholls makes them come alive in the most believable way. Em and Dex remind me of Alex and Rosie from Where Rainbows End: two friends who love each other but have bad timing and are too young, proud and stupid to be able to be together until much later in life.

Stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers!

The ending of One Day

I’m a fan of the book, but I’m not a fan of the ending (even though I’m not against imperfect endings in general and I do think that happy endings can spoil a book’s relatability). Personally, I believe that this could’ve been a great book even without the terrible accident. However, the accident is what made it possible for Nicholls to bring grief and nostalgia and the kind of love that only happens once in a lifetime into the book. And he did it magnificently. Still, what about Maddy? How could she agree to a life with someone who’s living in the past and for whom she’ll never be as great as Emma was?

The ending is heartbreaking: Em and Dex finally found their way to each other, and fate or whatever you want to call it broke them, this time forever. Why so cruel, Nicholls? I really wonder if the book would’ve been any less wonderful without this tragedy. Wasn’t there enough of it before, in all the failed relationships, careers, in all the years they spent apart, sometimes not even as friends? Why kill her, why make him suffer so bitterly?

Have you read this book? What did you think about the ending?

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