One Day (2009)
David Nicholls first came to my attention through the film adaptation of his first novel, Starter for Ten. I always meant to read that novel, when memories of the film had faded a little. Then I heard, in early 2010, about his new novel, One Day. It seemed everybody was talking about it: book groups, TV shows, bloggers, journalists. I read the blurb. Not for me, I thought: chick-lit, too soapy most likely. I think I was partly envious as well – might I not want to write this sort of thing? I dismissed it as something I would never read.
Skip forward to March 2011 and I was sitting in a writing group, talking with a young woman about books we loved. She declared One Day the “best novel I’ve ever read.” I’d been hearing this praise from women a lot. What was it about this novel that hooked readers so quickly and profoundly? I fired it up on my Kindle and set out to discover its secrets.
One Day tells the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, students when we first meet them, on their last night in Edinburgh. They are, we soon learn, perfect for each other – but it will take them fifteen years to finally get there. It charts their relationship over one day each year, the same day, St Swithin’s Day.
The format initially seems distancing: how will we care about a character when we get such short fragmented insights into their lives? Somehow David Nicholls does it, and does it effortlessly. His prose appears basic – no fancy literary flourishes – but the prose hides depths. One Day becomes a wonderful testament to friendship and to love, but it also swims down deeper, and meditates upon loneliness, failure, parenthood. It is a novel that encompasses life, and it is that quality that makes it great. For One Day is a great novel, it is certain to become a contemporary classic, and it would not surprise me to see it on bookshelves a hundred years from now, on another St Swithin’s Day.