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One Day

David Nicholls

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 31, 2011
Category: Fiction

Do I feel stupid.
I’ve just devoured a novel that was published almost a year ago. And not in the middle of the night during a media meltdown — in its first month in the United States, “One Day” sold 275,000 copies. (Mine was from the 10th printing.) Movie rights? It’s already been filmed — the movie, starring Anne Hathaway, opens here in July.
What held me back? Not the price. “One Day” was a big best-seller in Britain, but when Vintage published it here, its savvy marketers skipped the hardcover. Amazon now sells the paperback for $7.72 — and this novel fills 435 pages. Cheap per page! (To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.) 
Oh. Right. That’s it: 435 pages. Long book. And as some idiot has written, “Who has the time to read a 400-600 page novel? Do you? I surely don’t.”
But someone told me to read “One Day” — told me strongly, with fire in the recommendation — and I try to respond to enthusiasm that sincere. I started “One Day” on the runway in San Diego. I finished, five hours later, as the plane landed in Newark. In between, I was completely absorbed in the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew.
At this point, I should be well into a description of the book. I resist. Because I was reading it without scanning a single review, everything that happened was news to me. As a result, “One Day” was the cleanest reading experience I’ve had in years. Yeah, I laughed. But I also reached — often — for a pen to mark a line. And I surely did not see the tears ahead.
I wish the same for you.
You could say “One Day” is a comedy as calculated and commercial as “When Harry Met Sally.” The story is certainly a set-up. Start on July 15,1988. Graduation Day. Edinburgh. Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, newly minted graduates, meet and spend a night with lots of chat and a little marginal sex.
David looks like a catch: “He had the knack of looking perpetually posed for a photograph. Emma Morley thought ‘handsome’ a silly, nineteenth-century word, but there really was no other word for it, except perhaps ‘beautiful’.” He also has a flaw: “He hoped to be successful, to make his parents proud and to sleep with more than one woman at the same time, but how to make these all compatible?”
Emma is more of a dark horse:
She was pretty, but seemed annoyed by the fact. Her bottled-red hair was almost willfully badly cut, alone in front of the mirror probably… Her skin had a pallid puffiness that spoke of too much time in libraries or drinking pints in pubs, and her spectacles made her seem owlish and prim. Her chin was soft and a little plump, though perhaps that was just puppy-fat (or were ‘plump’ and ‘puppy-fat’ things you weren’t meant to say now? in the same way that you couldn’t tell her she had tremendous breasts, even if it was true, without her getting all offended.)
And Emma too has what might be called undefined goals:
The trick of it, she told herself, is to be courageous and bold and make a difference. Not change the world exactly, just the bit around you. Go out there with your double-first, your passion and your new Smith Corona electric typewriter and work hard at…something. Change lives through art maybe. Write beautifully. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principals, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved if at all possible. Eat sensibly. Stuff like that.
He has money and is off to travel for a year or two. She’s about to work at a Mexican restaurant and go home to a room without windows. Are they well-matched? Yes. But the timing is wrong, and they become best friends.
You groan. You know what’s ahead: the near-misses, the should-have-saids, the unspoken wishes. But here’s what you can’t predict: characters so human they’re as fucked up as the people you know, lines that you could have written about your own life if you only had the guts, and, most of all, an appreciation for the power of time.
David Nicholls is slick as snail snot. That’s not always — or even often — a compliment. Here, it is. “One Day” will lift your spirits, break your heart, make you want to kiss someone hard. And for less than the price of a Jamba Juice.
A bargain.
To read an excerpt, click here.