Book Review of 'One Day' by David Nicholls, Bestselling Author of 'Starter for Ten.'

About Dave Nicholls, Author of 'One Day'

David Nicholls is a British writer and screenwriter.

His other Novels are Starter for Ten and Understudy. He also wrote the Screenplay for Starter for Ten which starred James McEvoy, Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall.

He was a co-writer of Simpatico. He was nominated for a British Academy Television Craft Award for the four episodes of Cold Feet he contributed.

He has also worked on screen adaptations for the BBC on several dramas, such as Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbevilles, and Far from the Madding Crowd.

He wrote the Screenplay of 'And When Did You Last See Your Father?', from the Memoir by Blake Morrison. It received critical acclaim, but had only a limited release. It starred Colin Firth as Blake Morrison and Jim Broadbent as his father, Arthur.

A Must-Read!

One Day is the most enjoyable book I’ve read in a long time. It’s one of those glorious books, where you feel as if you’re losing two very dear friends when you reach the end.

One Day follows the life of Emma and Dexter. What is particularly interesting about the structure of this book is that the reader visits Dexter and Em (usually both, but occasionally just one of them) the same day each year from 1988 until 2007. But even though we only see them on the 15th July each year, Nicholls has such a clever way of filling in the gaps through what is currently going on in their lives, that you don’t feel as if you’ve missed anything.

The story begins the day after their university graduation. Emma has somehow managed to get the handsome Dexter, object of her desire, to accompany her back to her flat. Dexter is gorgeous, from a wealthy family and destined for success. Emma from Leeds is disgruntled by the world, overly earnest with a social conscience.

They are both daunted by the idea that they are about to embark on a new, independent adult life, and feeling rather ill-equipped for the task.

Dexter “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? He wanted to feature in magazine articles, and hoped one day for a retrospective of his work, without having any clear notion of what that work might be. He wanted to live life to the extreme, but without any mess or complications. He wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph. Things should look right. Fun; there should be a lot of fun and no more sadness than absolutely necessary."(p9)

As for Emma: “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 principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved if at all possible. Eat sensibly. Stuff like that." (p13)

Of course, life rarely stays inside even the most vague guidelines we lay out for it when we are young, for these fictional characters, life is no more obedient. Even the goals they achieve are reached in unexpected ways.

Emma is sure that after that first night, she will never hear from Dexter again. How wrong she is! That seemingly random night leads to a friendship that becomes the most significant relationship in their lives.

Not that they always get along. Over the years, as they develop and change, and their fortunes go up and down, so too does their relationship evolve. At times Dexter seems to have it all, at other times it is Emma trying to pull Dexter out of a slump. Sometimes they’re teetering on the edge of a romance, at other times they are barely friends.

Like Nick Hornby, David Nicholls has mastered the art of prose with a very broad appeal. It is unpretentious, incredibly easy to read, and yet impressively literary.

Nicholls switches between past and present tense so seamlessly from chapter to chapter, that I didn’t even notice until I revisited the book to write this review.

The writing is brilliantly descriptive without resorting to clichés. For example "He had one of those faces where you were aware of the bones beneath the skin, as if even his bare skull would be attractive."(p5)

The dialogue will have you laughing out loud. It is so witty, you can almost hear the characters bickering.

I found myself greedily reading on, desperate to see with each new chapter how Dexter and Emma had fared from one year to the next.

The final chapter is a continuation from their first day together back in 1988. A beautiful touch, that will have you feeling nostalgic for those early days of Dex and Emma, as if in some way it is the passing of your own life you’re revisiting.

There’s probably only one gripe that I have with the book. Toward the end of the book, a major event occurs on this significant day, which just seemed a little too coincidental to me. I don’t want to spoil the book, but once you’ve read it, you will see what I mean. I would love to hear what you think.

For those of you heading into warmer weather, One Day is a great beach read. But then, I also think it’s a great book to read at the beginning of the year, when we’re all thinking about what we want out of the year ahead. Fortunately, living in Australia, my summer reading time coincides with the New Year! Because One Day may be about the friendship of Dex and Em, but it’s one of those books that force you to look back on your own life as well.

Poll Book Vs Movie

Which Was Better? The Book or the Movie

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  • The Movie
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One Day, the Movie

Sadly the movie, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, does not do justice to the book, even though David Nicholls also wrote the screenplay. I strongly recommend reading the book before the movie. It was a tough book to turn into a movie - showing one day for every year, and so much of the characters were lost. Get it on DVD if you love the book, but prepare to be disappointed.

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Comments 5 comments

Ivona Poyntz profile image

Ivona Poyntz 4 years ago from UK

I recently finished this book: your review does it justice. But oh, was that ending necessary? Why, why, why I keep wondering, did that ending have to be thrown in from left field!


MayG profile image

MayG 4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia Author

Hi Ivona, Thanks so much for your comment and for reading my hub. I couldn't agree more. I was in complete shock when I got to the end!


Danielle Landry profile image

Danielle Landry 3 years ago from Vermont

*SLIGHT SPOILERS*

Ha I have to agree, when I got to the end I actually stopped and put the book down for a minute before I could read the last little bit. As shocking as it was - I really liked it because the best books are the ones that get such a reaction from it's readers. And it wasn't as if Nicholls went out of his way to create a dramatic cause for the tragedy. The most beautiful part of it was that it created a simple reminder of how fragile life is and how you really can't waste a minute of it.


MayG profile image

MayG 3 years ago from Melbourne, Australia Author

Hi Danielle, Thanks so much for reading my hub and for commenting on it. You are right, hadn't really thought about it like that, but it did kind of show that we should never be flippant when it comes to time. Kind of ties up the whole theme of the book really, which is all about the passing of time.


Danielle Landry profile image

Danielle Landry 3 years ago from Vermont

It was a pleasure! I think that is also part of where the movie falls short. When this part happens in the movie it is instant - almost comedic because you don't believe it at first. But when you are reading it it takes a minute and you have more time to absorb the weight of it. You also, as aforementioned, get to know the characters a lot more in the book than you do in the movie, which also helps absorb that scene. When I first read it (last summer), the ending seemed abrupt but upon much reflection I have come to much of the same conclusion as you. It really fits perfectly if you think of it as a passing of time concept like you mentioned.

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    MayG profile image

    May Galnou (MayG)77 Followers
    18 Articles

    May has a MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University, NSW. She spends her days reading, running and fighting chronic writer's block.



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