One Day by David Nicholls

2009. Vintage Contemporaries. Paperback. 435 pages.

From: the public library

Recommendation from:

I first noticed this book when I read Jess’ review of it on her blog, Park Benches & Bookends.

In a nutshell:

The story begins after the main characters, Emma and Dexter, spend the night together after their college graduation. The day is July 15th. Nicholls then captures the next twenty years of their lives by ‘dropping in’ on the two characters on July 15th of each subsequent year. Sometimes Emma and Dexter are in touch and sometimes they are not. It is a love story of a kind.


Just because I could, I symbolically started this book on July 15th. I finished it a few days later. What I like about the book is how Nicholls conveys how hard it is to connect to other people: how we blunder, misunderstand, and awkwardly speak and act to each other. It can be uncomfortable to read at times, but also I’m glad of its honesty. I can get annoyed with books where the characters intuitively understand one another all of the time. Also, by showing how fraught human communication is, Nicholls shows the wonderful value of those moments of real connection.

The characters, especially Emma, can be very funny and self-deprecating, and the book has some good humor throughout. That said, there are some sections that are rougher than others. Dexter’s alcoholic bouts are painful and hard to read for example. The sense of regret is a recurring emotion, as the reader sees how the characters’ life paths get diverted and stalled out, even wasted at times.

The novel is hopeful, really, even with its tragedies. There may be a couple, or really one, plot point that felt jarring and unnecessary to me, but I’m better at accepting it now than I was when I finished the book yesterday.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider One Day to be a must-read, but it’s a very good book and if it intrigues you, I don’t think you will be disappointed in it.

Others’ reviews:

The Captive Reader – “The banter between Emma and Dexter is terribly amusing and had me giggling aloud several times.  All too often, such back-and-forth feels forced, more onerous than humourous . . .”

Life . . . With Books  – “When reading, I found myself utterly absorbed, and I was always wondering where the next July 15 would find Dex and Em and what they would be doing. The only real quibble I had with the book is that I wish Nicholls hadn’t chosen to give Dex and Em such “glamorous” careers at various points. I didn’t think the book needed it to “goose” up the drama/comedy, but it is a minor complaint.”  (My note: I totally agree with this minor complaint!)

Park Benches & Bookends – “The two main characters are not perfect in fact sometimes I just wanted slap them but ultimately I really wanted them to find happiness with each other.”


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7 responses to “One Day by David Nicholls

  1. Oo, yes to the charge of giving them glamorous careers! I didn’t articulate that to myself but it bothered me unarticulated. Yes! That was a thing. I think the book would have worked a bit better if they’d been dealing with sort of pedestrian regular jobs all along (not rock-bottom jobs, and not glamorous ones, but middle of the road jobs).

  2. Tell me about awkward communication, I respond with “hm” at multiple intonations whenever I can because I can’t stand saying multiple words for little things…

  3. Nice review, Christy! I love the premise of ‘One Day’. I liked the way you have described the main characters as imperfect, and how Nicholls shows that it is really hard to connect to other people. Beautiful observation 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed One Day and loved Nicholls’ style. I hope the movie is true to that style.
    My review is here:

  5. Have you seen the movie trailer? I haven’t read the book yet but I bought it with some of my graduation money and can’t wait to read it. I have read a lot of mostly positive reviews about this one. I like the fact that it sounds super realistic — exploring the way people actually are.

  6. Jenny – I’m especially thinking of Emma’s success – it wasn’t handled as implausibly as in other books I’ve read, but I was still, like, really? that wasn’t necessary.

    Ondrej – intonation is hard to translate on page, but I do so appreciate authors who take a good stab at realistic dialogue.

    Vishy – The premise definitely sucked me in and the execution of the idea fortunately delivered.

    samstillreading – Agreed. It’s directed by the same person who directed “An Education” w/ Carey Mulligan. While “An Education” wasn’t my favorite film, it did show a sensitivity to nuance.

    Jennifer – I did see the movie trailer, and it seemed that the majority of the dialogue and scenes shown in the trailer were taken faithfully from the book. I even saw that Emma (Anne Hathaway) is wearing a dress in one scene just as described by Nicholls. Hope you enjoy the book!

  7. Pingback: One Day by David Nicholls | Most Popular Books

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