One Day (David Nicholls)

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads:  "It's 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. They both know that the next day, after college graduation, they must go their separate ways. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. As the years go by, Dex and Em begin to lead separate lives—lives very different from the people they once dreamed they'd become. And yet, unable to let go of that special something that grabbed onto them that first night, an extraordinary relationship develops between the two. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself."

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. You probably shouldn't read this review if you want to read this book and haven't yet.

URGH. I thought this book was going to be light, in a When Harry Met Sally kind of way, but I was so wrong. That assumption in itself colored my entire take on the book, leaving me feeling empty and depressed in the end -- perhaps if I'd gone in with no expectations, things would have been different...

Somehow One Day has been on my to-read list since last year, but I only got around to picking it up after I saw the trailer for the movie adaptation with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. It looked cute. I was in the mood for cute. So I picked up the book, expecting cuteness galore: these two lost souls meet up just after university, are obviously madly attracted to each other, and fall victim to bad timing. Again, and again, and again. For twenty years, apparently.

This part is fine. Nicholls deals well with the long, drawn-out-ness of Emma and Dexter's relationship -- I wasn't bored by it, and in a sense the history the two create ends up making the story feel more like real life. There are real life problems here, marriages, divorce, alcoholism, the inevitable floundering-along of the mid-twenties. It felt real, and I appreciated that.

Of course with a book like this the audience is waiting for the lovers to finally get together, and they do. At this point I feel like the structure of the book (chapters centered entirely around the one day each year that Dexter and Emma's lives intersect) hobbles the story, as Emma and Dexter are such different people I wished more screen time was given to how they figure out how to make their relationship work. The way things are, we see the moment they make a commitment to each other, and then fast forward a year. It's not a great payoff for the twenty years of missed connections the reader has been waiting patiently through.

But it is a happy ending, at least. They're happy, and they're together. Emma is a pretty successful writer, and Dexter has finally landed on his feet. They're looking to buy a house together.

SPOILER! Seriously, do not read ahead if you don't want the book to be spoiled.




And then Emma gets hit by a car and dies a tragically young death.

I wish I were kidding. I suppose there's an argument to be made for realism, and it's all about the fleetingness of life and understanding of the important things and all of that, but I was expecting a happy ending. I was expecting cute. This book was sold to me as CUTE! Instead, right at the lead-up to the end of the book we're treated to Dexter wallowing in depression and semi-alcoholism before settling into a relationship with a new woman (a very nice one, but obviously not Emma).

Sigh. If you read this book expecting cute, I guarantee you'll be disappointed and depressed at the end. You'll probably be better off reading with no expectations. I very much enjoyed it...until Emma's death killed off all the joy and happiness in my heart.

Final word: DEPRESSING. This book may be for you, but it really should come with a NOT CUTE warning label.

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