One Day


My taste in most things seems to run to Brits. Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Radiohead. Quality Street, Sherbet, Jellybabies. A.S. Byatt, Thomas Hardy, Angela Carter. So One Day was an easy sell for me. It's a rock-'n'-roll candy-bag of a book, with an essential easy Englishness. While One Day deals with some more serious topics (death, divorce, alcoholism, life paths), it feels like reading Bridget Jones's Diary. This is a complementary comparison; One Day is filled with likeable, relateable characters, who are often very funny. These are people I'd have over for dinner, and Drunken YellingTM.

Spoiler-y things happen after here!

One Day's narrative trick is to relate the events of July 15th, starting in 1988. This is the day we find Emma and Dexter in bed, though not post-coitus. We are led through the next 20-odd years of their life, through the ups and downs of a vibrant and wonderful friendship, reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally. In fact, Emma's later boyfriend, Ian, actually alludes to that film, though derisively. I found myself tearing through the first 3/4ths of the book, just enjoying the ride. Unfortunately, no one can ever just let men and women be friends, and the thing I dreaded most happened: Emma and Dexter get together. Moreover, they get married. Emma, to this point, had been rather unconventional, with a wandering career path and a "not-for-me" attitude towards marriage and children. In fact, she resents the intrusion of children into the lives of all her friends. When she marries Dexter, however, she comes to realise she does want a child. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a show of maturity for Emma, or an easy narrative out. Either way, seeing Emma become those things she fought against being was a let down. And then, Emma dies.

By this part of the book, I'd checked out a bit. I just didn't like them together any more. Maybe Nicholls didn't either, and had to kill Emma off to make things interesting. Emma dies suddenly, riding her bike in the rain, struck by a car. The passage itself is supposed to be startling:
Then Emma Mayhew dies, and everything that she thought or felt vanishes and is gone forever
I was reminded of another startling death scene I read a couple years ago, from a breakout French bestseller (this is probably spoiler-y too, but I'm trying not to be). Same sort of premise: quick death, struck by car. Yet that time, I wept from it. I didn't see it coming, and I cared so much, that I was brought to tears*. When Emma died, I thought "Oh, that was easy."

One Day remains an excellent read, though I resented the conventionality it stumbles into near the end, and the odd way Nicholl's tries to make up for it. One Day was yet another Lainey Liu recommendation (she's a hell of a reviewer and reader, whatever you think about the celebrity gossip biz), and I wouldn't say the less-than-great ending quarter of One Day would make me trust her taste in books any less. She nailed Room, and got me to read Furious Love, so I'll keep heeding her suggestions.

*I almost never cry at movies, but Hardy (for example) can make me bawl for days. I'm more invested in the word, I suppose

11 comments:

justalillost said...

I've been anxiously waiting for you to finish the book so I can discuss with you! :) I completely agree about the ending. I knew it was building up to something, with their fight and them missing each other and getting just their voicemails. Knew it was foreshadowing something... and it did seem easy. It's like, if you blink, you'd have missed the sentence that says she dies!
I felt it was kinda like a Jim/Pam thing on The Office.. all the fun is the build-up.. the flirtation and angsty "will they or won't they?" feeling...
I did, however, like that Nicholls delved into Dex as a widow (can that term refer to guys?) It was a nice bit of a change of pace to see the guy's point of view more than the girl's...

B.Kienapple said...

I loved One Day, but I had the same reservations as you, and I was also frustrated how such a lively character like Emma could fall for a card like Dexter. It's like she came down with help-mate syndrome, complete with baby lust. ANYWAY. Glad you enjoyed, for the most part.

Elixxir said...

Lord I'm dim. I totally didn't see the end coming and wept like someone had stolen my vodka.

Panic said...

Lixx: I didn't see it coming, it's just that I didn't care when it did. Which means something really went wrong in the chapters before. If he'd have killed her off before she married Dexter I might have been more invested in it.

Panic said...

Michele,
You make a really good point. It is just like all those TV shows, with the "will they/won't they." Of course, ratings for those shows always drop when they do. Maybe Nicholl's should have learned from that!

Anonymous said...

The date if Emmas death is actually the One Day the whole structure of the book is based on. Them meeting up on the 15th July is thrown in as a red herring to make the reader assume the book is revisiting this date for that reason.

It's based on the Tess of the D'Urbervilles notion of a Death Day. A unknown day that passes every year that is actually a pre-anniversary of your death. In the Thomas Hardy novel Tess feels a shiver down her spine, thinking maybe this will be the date she will die one day in the future. It is no coincidence Nicholls wrote the screenplay for the BBC version of Tess right before this novel.

In chapter one of One Day Emma has a similar feeling of unexplained fear yet it almost goes unnoticed on first reading. Even if you do notice it, you most people assume it's just a reference to how emotional and tough the next 20 years will be and her relationship with Dex. That is the authors intention.

A lot of people think killing her off was a cop-out but really the whole structure of the book is based around the anniversary of her death.

Panic said...

Oh man. That is awesome, thank you Anonymous! I feel shame that I didn't recognize it, given Tess is my favourite book.

I stand by my reaction to her death though, and perhaps that's why I didn't give more thought to it. I'd just checked out of her and Dex by then, and when she checks out, I failed to be moved.

Anonymous said...

No problem, you don't really see it at first. You just think the tragic element is a bit crap!

Oh I made an error in the last post too - Emma feels the shiver down her spine in the very last chapter, not the first. The one where they exchange numbers after spending the day together.

Maybe Nicholls thought he couldn't risk putting it in the beginning chapter in case it gave it all away...

But once you realise the significance, it gives you more to think about than simply the ending being a bit unnecessary!

Ninja said...

Is the "French Breakout Bestseller" the Elegance of the Hedgehog?

Panic said...

Myup.

Anonymous said...

I do not think the ending to one day was a cop-out. The whole story was based around the anniversary of Emma Morley's death, despite the brilliant book and film, I would've hoped for a happy ending after all the sad, tough and tragic times. I was hoping that they would finally live happy lives together