Friday, 19 February 2010

One Day - David Nicholls

I had such good intentions, I really did. ‘One day,’ I said to myself, ‘one day I’m going to actually post on that book blog that I set up months ago. One day I’m going to continue what I started so energetically. One day...’ I guess I was looking for a sign.

So when Hodder Books tweeted that One Day was number 1 in the best-sellers’ list, and then instructed me to go to my bookshelves, grab my copy and read it forthwith, what could I do but comply? (And I must admit that I thought ‘ah ha, here’s a hook to get me back into blogging’.)

So pleased I did. One Day is a fantastic book, brilliantly executed with a lightness of touch that’s really appealing. In a sense it’s very high-concept - the book spans twenty years but the action takes place on just one day a year, 15 July - but the concept never gets in the way of the story or the writing, which is really simple and elegant - the sort of simplicity and elegance I’m sure takes a whole lot of effort to achieve.

What the concept does is to allow its characters to change subtly (OK, sometimes not-so subtly) over time. And One Day is all about Dex and Em, Em and Dex. Whether you like the book or not rests on whether you like these characters. I’d say it’s very difficult not to - they’re complicated, sometimes infuriating, but intelligent and on the whole good-hearted - and they have the sort of fast, sharp, witty conversation that you’d normally see on shows like Buffy or The West Wing. Dexter and Emma’s lives play out against the backdrop of nineties and noughties’ London, with its obsession with youth, television (or ‘the media’, as Dexter would probably say) and celebrity.

If I had to niggle, it would be to say that I thought the first part of Emma’s story was a little cliched, a little bit edging towards the experience a character in a chick-lit novel might have - ending up single after being in a drab relationship with a failed comedian (though ironically Ian himself is a fantastic comic creation) - but on consideration I think that this was very clever of Nicholls. While it’s been a long time since I was single, unmarried women are constantly scrutinised and commented upon in a way I don’t think that unmarried men are; they’re either perceived as living a frivolous life, all champagne cocktails and Jimmy Choo’s, or in their pyjamas, stuffing their faces with chocolate and crying into their warm chardonnay. I think Nicholls deliberately gave Emma this experience, showing the reader that there’s complexity and depth behind the Sex and the City/Bridget Jones stereotypes.

Did I mention how funny it is? One Day is very, very funny, almost relentlessly so. But it’s not just a funny book - there are many uncomfortable scenes, many times when Dex and Em’s relationship feels as if it’s in jeopardy, and if you can make it to the end of the book without crying, then you’re a stronger man than I am, Gunga Din.

If I was back down in London, I’m sure that this is one of those books that I’d see read on the tube and on buses, much in the same way as I saw Birdsong (atrocious) or Time Traveler’s Wife (great). I suspect it will be enjoyed by men and women equally. I hope it continues to be as successful as it was last week. I love it when a book this good gets popular.