One Day (2009)

by David Nicholls

Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley spend the night of July 15, 1988, together after their graduation from Edinburgh University. Each chapter in One Day zeroes in on July 15 of the next 20 years. Best friends for most of that time, Dex and Em secretly long for each other, but year after year the timing doesn’t seem right for them to get together. Good-looking, charming Dexter finds success early on as a TV presenter for shows that give him some fame if not intellectual creds. Emma’s success is slow to come; she works as a waitress and then a teacher in a rough school before her children’s novel takes off and spawns a series of sequels. Emma has either no romance or the wrong kind. Dexter is an alcohol- and drug-addicted philanderer. In his 30s he thinks he’s settling down, but the marriage, which produces a daughter, fizzles before the second anniversary—just as Dexter’s TV career is tanking. Unemployed and down-and-out, he finally admits his feelings for Emma and finds a measure of happiness in their love and in a new deli-café venture Emma urges on him.

One Day, however, is not a happily ever story where the culmination of the relationship ends the book, nor is the friendship that comes before less important. What Nicholls is examining is a relationship in time, with support and squabbles, laughter and tears, separation and coming back together. Nicholls clearly believes that life and love are complicated—by missed opportunities, compromises, mistakes, and cruel twists of fate. The book is funny and sad, understated yet perceptive. Although one might quibble with an emotionally manipulative ending and question what Emma sees in Dexter, One Day is better written and more insightful than the usual love story.


Home               My reviews               My friends' reviews