By December 1, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

One Day You Shouldn’t Miss

one-dayMy first encounter with David Nicholls was with his 2004 book, A Question of Attraction. It’s a funny but somewhat inconsequential book about a socially awkward college student who falls for the glamor girl at university while failing to appreciate another girl on the Quiz Bowl team for whom he’s a better fit. While Attraction wouldn’t make for marvelous group discussion, it’s entertaining enough and revealed a writer worth checking in on again.

I’m pleased to report that Nicholls raises his game for One Day, a novel that will be in my personal list of 2010’s best books (and you may have noticed in Misha’s list as well in the previous post). He’s still working in a light romantic mode, this time tracking the relationship between two English friends, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, over the course of twenty years, beginning in 1988. Nicholls doesn’t tell their entire story, but instead checks in with one or both of the characters on June 15th each year, the anniversary of the one-night stand that got the two together just after college graduation. While the sparks are instant, and the pair remain close friends over the years, they’re unable through most of the years to pull the trigger on anything beyond friendship

This is an oddly matched pair. In college, Emma is a political firebrand, and always the more serious and responsible of the two, but it takes her years to find her niche. Dexter’s a bit of a rogue, charming his way quickly into a television career, but then crashing through substance abuse and the limits of his rather smarmy appeal. Over the years, both go through various careers and partners while always remaining closely attuned to each other.

What surprises me about One Day is not Nicholls’ way with humor. That was on display in A Question of Attraction In this book, he also shows a knack with other emotions. I’m about the same age as these characters, and found them easy to believe, often feeling a great empathy for their various dilemmas of love, career, and life over the rapidly passing years. More than once, I found myself truly moved, for instance in the year when Dexter’s mother is dying from cancer and he’s unable to provide the consolation he wants desperately to give because his drug and alcohol problems are out of control. You won’t always like the choices of these characters, particularly Dexter’s, but Nicholls makes them sympathetic, and you’ll be rooting for them to pull through.

Nicholls has joined the category of Nick Hornby, Elinor Lipman, and Marian Keyes: writers of light contemporary fiction that is fun to read but has enough substance to provoke the thoughts of individual readers and support the discussion of book groups.

If your group tries this, play the game where you cast the lead characters in a film version. A movie is forthcoming with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (who film audiences probably know best for his lead in Across the Universe). Personally, I’d put Emma Thompson in my movie time machine and cast her against Kenneth Branagh or Hugh Grant in their youthful heydays. Nicholls wrote the screenplay himself  (as he did for the James McAvoy-led film version of A Question of Attraction, renamed Starter for Ten) so the film should maintain fidelity to the novel.

But read the book first, your group will treasure this One Day.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "One Day You Shouldn’t Miss"

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  1. misha says:

    So glad you liked it, too, Neil!

  2. This is why I love book blogging – One Day is actually one of the books I talked about that I felt didn’t live up to the hype. Dexter is a terrible person and Emma is so sad… I couldn’t wait for the book to end and when it was over I wasn’t satisfied.

    That’s okay though right? We don’t have to all like the same book. I’m happy to see it was a favorite for you this year.

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