"15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows? Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY."
Upon his 2003 debut, Starter For Ten, I remember feeling a little unsure about David Nicholls' writing. I seem to recall that it was the main character, and his dialogue, that did not sit well with me; it all seemed just a little too self-consciously pretentious. However, six years on from this, One Day (Nicholls' third novel) is storming the book columns of all the national papers and was recently named by radio presenter Richard Bacon on the show "My Life in Books" as being one of his precious five choices. But does it live up to the hype?
To my mind it certainly does - even taking account of the fact that my sister and I are fast readers normally, we zoomed through the one copy we had in about half a week, both enjoying it immensely to the point of being near-unable to put it down, and barely avoiding a little tear on the way as well. For One Day, with its delightfully imperfect and very human characters and deft depiction of all life's joys and messes, is as poignant as it is funny, and Richard Bacon described it very accurately upon saying that when reading One Day "you have never cared so much about two people who do not exist".
I am not, however, a fan of "product placement" in books, and unfortunately One Day has it in spades - although my sister's point that this may have helped to culturally define the periods in which the book was set (1980s, 1990s and 2000s) is not completely unfounded. This one negative is also vastly compensated for by the rest of the novel's positive points: it is compelling, accessible, and flows very naturally, contrary to the stiltedness of some aspects of Starter For Ten. It also delivers an enormous twist that strikes us painfully accurately as to the occasional randomness and unfairness of life and how our lives can be altered beyond doubt by the presence of one human being.
One Day therefore firmly establishes David Nicholls on the scene as a writer who is as integral to the contemporary fabric of literature as Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood; with his way of worming his way into the hearts of his readers and his increasingly natural flow of dialogue and plot, he is a master of the popular read that not only entertains us but also affects us profoundly, with us even having realised this before the book is put down.
Other works by David Nicholls
Starter For Ten (2003)The Understudy (2005)