Book review: One Day

Posted by Judy Johnson On Monday, 1 October 2012 23:10
I don't get to read as much as I'd like to thanks to hectic London life, so aside from the sun, sea and sangria, one of the things I looked forward to most about my holiday was starting and finishing a book or two.

The first book of choice was One Day by David Nicholls, and having not seen the film (part hate for Anne Hathaway, part knowing I wanted to read it first) and after hearing plenty about it, I was intrigued - I generally avoid books that have a lot of hype but am a sucker for a good love story. Plus everybody on the tube had read it, so I had some catching up to do.

It wasn't quite as I expected - I thought it was a romantic story of a should-be couple meeting up on the anniversary of their first date, but instead it looked at where they were on that date each year whether they were together or not. The book spans 20 years, from 1988 when they meet as students to the present day.

I'd seen plenty of comments about it not being a 'traditional romance' so I wasn't expecting the usual chick-lit, but at first I found it very hard to like either of the characters. I found Em difficult rather than endearing, and Dex arrogant in the way that isn't attractive, making it tricky to care about either of them. But their lack of likeability makes them all the more real, which I assume the author was going for - this is no Disney tale of the perfect man and the perfect woman falling in love.

Both lead characters (and the people that surround them) are flawed, but through working on their imperfections they grow up together, apart, and together again. It felt incredibly genuine. While a lot of books tend to be a bit saucy or funny for dramatic effect, One Day had a real edge to it, largely I think because of the structure. Each installment in the life of Em and Dex was intriguing, but just as you turn the page to find out what happens next a year has passed and their lives have changed and intertwined, in ways which aren't always revealed in great detail.

I imagine it suits both men and women, another plus that puts it above your traditional chick-lit; Londoners might enjoy it for its depictions of the city and how the two live in such contrasting situations (Dex's snobbery at her pokey flat was particularly authentic). 

I did have one big issue with it, though; the twist seemed unnecessary. I know a lot of people whinge about twists if it involves something happening that they would prefer not to happen, but for me it felt a bit like a desperate attempt at making the book 'shock' readers (and creep up the bestsellers lists in the process). Maybe I'm just too cynical?

What I liked most about the story, though, was the writing (engaging and not soppy despite dealing with emotion) and the fact that I could really relate to the relationship. It was like taking a sidestep, looking at a past relationship and seeing it for all its flaws, greatness and sadness in one. 

I always like a story that teaches me a little something, and Nicholls definitely gave me something to think about - love is not perfect, for one thing; and for another, don't ever imagine Anne Hathaway when picturing a character. It ruins it. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

P.S. I watched the film after and it was much better than expected. But the book definitely wins.

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