Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls: Read This Book Right Now Before The Movie (Probably) Ruins It

After finishing One Day during my trip to Belize last November, I immediately granted it a spot on my Top Five Favorite Books of All Time list. So before some of you take one look at its cover to the right and scamper off, hollering, "I don't do chick lit!", let me remind you that I don't do chick lit either. Plus, One Day was written by a dude, so there. Not that a dude can't write chick lit, but the fact that a guy (who's been compared to High Fidelity's Nick Hornby) penned this book that I'm about to sing the praises of and encourage each and every one of you to read might help build my case that it is not really a "romance novel," despite what its cover makes it look like.

OK, so what IS One Day about, then?

It's the story of two people, Emma and Dexter, who we get to drop in on every July 15 from 1988 (when they meet at their college graduation) until 2007. That's right, we spend just one day with them a year... for 20 years. I'm sure a story structure like this has been done at some point in the past, but I'd never experienced anything like it, and I found it so, so clever.

Now, clearly there must be SOME sort of spark between Emma and Dex or else they wouldn't be worth keeping up with for two decades. They definitely do have chemistry, but it's more of an "opposites attract" type of thing, with her being the more serious, practical one and him being the rebellious wild child. So when I say that the book checks in on them every year, I don't mean that they're together together during that time. We learn what each of them has been up to -- sometimes they meet up on that day, sometimes they have a phone call, and sometimes they are completely wrapped up in their own little worlds and have zero communication. To spill any other details would spoil most of the story, so I'm keeping mum.

For the first four or five chapters (years) of One Day, I wasn't into it. I say this in case others have the same reaction -- I urge you to keep reading. I felt, especially in the early years, that it was hard to relate to both characters. I should also mention that they're British, so there were some pop-culture allusions I didn't really get, either. Even by the end, neither Emma or Dexter were characters I liked, per se... but yet One Day is still one of my all-time favorite books, which surely means author David Nicholls is a genius.

After trying to figure out exactly why this book had such a huge effect on me (did I fail to mention how I spent half-a-day in Belize sobbing my head off? But not necessarily out of sadness...), I realized that it wasn't because I cared specifically about Emma or Dexter, but rather because what happens to both of them over the course of twenty years was so relatable and so realistic that I just don't think anyone could keep themselves from comparing how dumb luck, bad luck, good luck, random coincidences, twists of fate, stupid mistakes, and bold decisions have played a part in his or her own life. I also think I liked the story because despite several didn't-see-THAT-coming twists in both Em and Dex's paths, and despite the kind of depressing "Life doesn't always work out the way you want or expect it to" theme, I interpreted One Day's overall message to be one of exhilarating hope. It also reinforced my strong personal belief in making the most of the time we have so as to not ever wonder "What if...?" when we're old and gray and it's too late to do that one thing, apologize to that one person, go on that one vacation, or take that big scary leap.

One Day is up there with The Time Traveler's Wife for me, if that tells you anything. My husband read it as well and also enjoyed it. I've recommended it to several people over the past six months and every one of them has contacted me after they've read it to be like, "WOW." So I am confident that you, too, will thank me for encouraging you to check it out. However, since it is in fact an international mega-bestseller, perhaps you've already read it, in which case I would love to hear your thoughts.

Now, those of you who are up on entertainment news are probably aware that the movie version of One Day is coming out in mid-August. I'm seeing it next week (for my redbox gig) and you can bet I'm nervous. I'm not even going to mention who's playing Emma and Dexter because I don't want you to have any images in your head when you read the book (seriously, don't Google it or look for the trailer). While I certainly hope that the film meets my expectations, I really don't see how it could ever compare to the book. So get going on One Day before mid-August, or just as soon as possible, so that you aren't corrupted by the posters and trailers that will be everywhere very soon!

As always, we're free to discuss spoilers in the comments section below. There are some BIG ones in this book, so if you haven't read it yet, look away from the comments or you will kick yourself!

- e


seg74 said...

I read it last year as well and loved it. I am very curious to hear what you think of the movie - based on your review first, and then everyone else's, I never bothered seeing the Time Travelers Wife. (Since I loved that book as well - figured why bother with such a sucky movie!)

I was very surprised at some of the places that this book went but couldn't put it down!

Maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised w/ the movie?! One can hope!

Kelly, UK said...

Ooooh! This is one of my favourite books too! I read it a year ago and absolutely loved the story; it was a bit When Harry Met Sally and had some good twists and plenty of happy and sad bits. I had no idea they were making a film!! Looking forward to your review :)

Tiffany said...

This is also one of my favorite books! The trailer for the movie looks horrible. I am normally a fan of Anne Hathaway but her complete butchery of the English dialect may very well ruin the movie for me.

Emily said...

I went out and bought this immediately after reading your post, I hadn't heard of it before. I just finished it 10 minutes ago and yes, I would agree with the WOW of everyone else. It really did touch me in a way I didn't expect. I can't see a movie having the same effect, so thank you for the suggestion. Amazing book!

maikib said...

just ordered it... i (as you know) loved TTW as much as you, so i'm sure i'll love this one! next on my reading list after "new york mormon singles halloween dance" (very funny so far) and "freedom" which i'm just getting around to reading. also started "game of thrones" since i loved the series... oh, so many book, so little time!

Aunt J-ha said...

I read "One Day" on the way home from vacation last summer. I loved it and could not put it down- laughing and crying alternately until I got to THAT part near the end when audibly gasped, started crying and tossed the book in the air- much to the dismay for all the other passengers on the plane. Couldn't believe the plot twist and then couldn't believe I missed it. Of course I did finish it, and I loved it. I agree with Erica, read it before the movie comes out, preferably in the privacy of your own home.

Carla Hays said...

Erika -

Just finished One Day. Loved it. It starts out like chick lit, but by the time it ends it's so much more than that. I love books that are character studies. We got to know Em and Dex intimately, love 'em or hate 'em, we knew what made them tick, and I love that in a story. Like you said, it's set in England, and there was a little culture mish-mash that was over my head, but I felt like the setting (Great Britain) and the time (80's through 2007) were characters too, in a way. I just loved it. Thanks for the heads up. Now I plan to search for those trailers and see what I think of the movie version. If it's anything like TTTW, then I'll just pass.

Kristyn from Detroit said...

Okay, I went and bought this book after your review and just finished it. I really did enjoy it - there were many times I found myself laughing out loud & reading certain passages to people.
I had a feeling all throughout that either they were going to get together in the end in a super-cheesy way that would ruin the book, or that someone would die and that would ruin the book.
When I realized that someone was going to die, I suddenly hoped that they would get together and have a cheesy ending, but, what can you do?

I did appreciate that the story "continued" after the death, and that helped drive home the fact that the message of this book was that life goes on and you shouldn't give up on some sense of happiness despite tragedy.

Sorry for my rambling!