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 foreverI 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