Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: One Day

By Melissa Amster
I first heard about "One Day" by David Nicholls last year and put it in the back of my mind as something to read...one day. Then it was introduced to me again when there was talk of it becoming a movie. When my local book club recently decided that we should all read it for our next meeting, I agreed to do so. I was left with mixed feelings though....

Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet in 1998 at a graduation party. From that point on, their lives intersect over the course of twenty years. Snapshots of their lives are portrayed on the same day every year, July 15th, also known as St. Swithin's Day. They cross each other's paths while immersed in other relationships or trying to figure out their careers. While July 15th seems like an average day, it eventually becomes significant to their lives.

When I first started reading "One Day," I wasn't convinced that I would be able to read the entire novel. It felt slow and overly wordy for quite a few chapters. Then it suddenly picked up some steam and I breezed through the rest of the story. I really liked the descriptiveness of the people and locations. Even though I read this after I found out who was cast in the movie and could only picture Anne Hathaway as Emma the entire time, my mental images of Dexter had more freedom, as I've never seen Jim Sturgess in anything else (as far as I can recall). The depictions of the other characters were thoughtful and allowed a clear visualization for me each time someone new was introduced. There were some humorous moments, as well as some heartfelt ones. The dialogue was realistic (and engaging once I got into the story) and I connected with the characters as if they were real friends of mine. If I had one word to describe this novel, it would be "epic." It has a feel of chick lit, but there is so much to take in from it and the characters are taken on a journey over the course of time.

I don't want to give any spoilers, so I can't say the main thing I didn't like about this story. Just be aware that there is a shocking climax and then see for yourself. The thing that did bother me most aside from that was the Benjamin Disraeli syndrome. There's an episode of "Family Guy" where Peter mentions someone historical (to the UK) named Benjamin Disraeli. Then they flash to a clip of Benjamin saying, in a haughty British accent, "You don't even know who I am." That's how I felt throughout most of the story. They would drop names of famous people and I had no idea of whom they were speaking, such as Jean Seberg. Maybe I'm just not cultural enough, but I would have liked some artistic or pop culture references to be more on my level. I recognized "Jurassic Park" and that was about it. They even mentioned songs that I have never heard of. I know I don't live in the UK, but I'm sure there are shared artistic interests with the US.

Overall, "One Day" was a compelling story, once I got through the first few chapters. However, if you want everything at once, I would suggest just seeing the movie. I don't even know if it follows the book exactly, but I'm definitely interested in seeing it, now that I finished reading the book. I want to see how the actors play out the roles and if the visualizations are similar to what was in my head. I liked the concept of this novel though. It's interesting to see how much can happen over a year's time, or maybe longer. It made me realize how much time has passed between when I've seen certain friends of mine and now and how much we've changed during that passage of time.

(Cover art: Movie tie-in, top left. Original, bottom right.)

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The Book Chick said...

Hey! Great review! I do agree with you about the thing that bothered you, though :)

leonel said...

loved your review, and as you know, i loved this book as well, and can't wait to see the movie.

Becky said...

I had mixed feelings about this book -it had been a bit over-hyped I thought by those recommending it. Nevertheless I did enjoy it but it didn't affect me in the same way it has some other people I know. I'm intrigued to see the film though! As someone who lives near Leeds I'll be interested to see how Anne's Yorkshire accent fairs!

Amy said...

great review. Wish I could write reviews like you did on this one. I read it when it first came out and, if I recall correctly, had a bit of a hard time getting into it, maybe over the course of the first two chapters, but after that, it was smooth sailing.

EleanorGJ said...

Oh Melissa! I am so glad you reviewed this novel.

One Day was recommended to me by an agent at the BackSpace Agent-Author Seminar. The agent commented how he thought it was the best example of 'chick lit with substance.' I bristled at the negative compliment, but made a note to investigate.

The chapter opens in a grungey little university dorm room, high above the cobbled streets of my beloved Edinburgh, with awkward Emma Morley lying next to fellow graduate, Dexter Mayhew. As the student 'carpe diem' vanishes with the dawn, the Reader is immediately introduced to the main theme: stubborn, silent, stoic, stiff upper-lip love; of opportunities appearing and opportunities wasted.

I loved this book. Perhaps because I am a masochist and think there is nothing more stomach-turning and gut-wrenching than requited love that is not realized.

The flawed characters are well fleshed out and I thought Emma was a delight. She is principled (aside from her episode with the headmaster), funny and she really grows as a character. Dexter is a self confident cad. In England, we'd call him a 'cocky git', yet his downfall is so human, you can't help but feel sorry for him.

The characters graduated about 10 years before me, but i found all the cultural references right on! (I used to watch a late night programme just like the one Dexter presented!) I was sorry to read that this didn't translate for you Melissa. There were transatlantic successes (Wham! Spandau Ballet,) but the main 80's poofy-shirted, floppy-haired wonders stayed on brit shores--good thing too. Really. (Am now having visions of Hugh Grant gyrating to 'Pop! Goes My Heart' in Music & Lyrics!!)

I like to be in on a joke, so I can see how not knowing the cultural references, or the geography, could lessen your enjoyment--but for a Brit, Nicholls pitched it perfectly.

It'll be interesting to see how the film lives up to such fine writing. I shall be queuing up for my ticket on Friday night!

So, was the agent right? Was this novel, written by a man, really the best example of chick lit? No, I think it is the best example of a real, unglamorous, sweaty, uncomfortable, tangled, inconvenient, heart-breaking, soul-soaring, modern love story.

Books Etc. said...

I really wanted to like this book. Truly, I did. But...I just couldn't. I didn't like the thing you didn't like that we can't really talk about (how's that for confusion :) ) but at that point I honestly don't think I cared too much. I think the reason I didn't like it was because the characters actually drove me crazy. Which seems like a horrible thing to say and I hope the author never sees that because these characters are his creation and for someone to not like the people in a story...not good. I'm probably going to watch the movie when it comes out on DVD. I'm hoping Anne Hathaway (who I love!) will make me like her character a little more. We'll see! Great review overall :)

Eleanorgj said...

HI! Just a little P.S. to my earlier comment. I went to see the movie last night.

I looked rather like an albino cod by the end of it. Anne Hathaway did a fabulous job with the prickly, principled Emma and her accent was well done. I had worried for her, because it's one thing for an American to portray the Brit accent and quite another to master it with a regional (northern) accent as she did here. The subtle twangs were really well placed.
As for Sturgess, he did well enough. I didn't actually 'fancy' him--which is a shame, because the Reader is supposed to see Dexter's allure, and I couldn't help thinking through the whole movie that he was just a giant knob-head who I would not touch even protected in a Hazmat suit.
The opening years are very short, whipping through, missing a lot of the character/reader bonding that you have in the book, but that is movies, isn't it?
All in all, a good job. Anne's beautiful, expressive, heart-breaking face and the backdrop of Edinburgh make the movie. (A good performance by Rafe Spall, who plays Ian Whitehead, too.)
What did you guys think?

Matthew Selwyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Selwyn said...

Your point about the cultural references is a good one. I'm from the UK so most were relevant to me, but reading the book I realised how quickly they would age it. If, like yourself, readers from other countries are already finding the references a little impenetrable then that only emphasises the limiting effect they have.

By the way, do people really not know who Benjamin Disraeli is outside of Britain? Small world, such large cultural gaps. Strange.

My review: One Day by David Nicholls