Monday, December 24, 2012

One Day: a very short review

I'm about two years late (typical), but I finally got around to David Nicholls's One Day.

The book's concept is to tell a story that spans two decades, by relating only the events of July 15th of each year. One year at a time, we learn about what happens on that one day (hence the title).

One Day is an easy book to consume: you can grasp the story from the very first page, and Nicholls's light touch and wonderful gift for dialogue make the book race along. And it's obviously the sort of book that would certainly become a Hollywood movie.

Unlike many a book, where I find myself in love with the book during its middle, only to struggle through to the end, One Day is a book that starts rough but gains strength as it goes, and has an extremely strong and compelling finish.

A few chapters in, I absolutely hated the book: it was dark, depressing, miserable. But I was locked into the two characters and the once-a-year technique made it possible to really follow a life-long story in a book of manageable size.

Part of my struggle with the book involves its language: American readers like myself won't know words like "bin-liner", "lorry", "rucksack", or "wet room", and will just completely fall apart when presented with something like:

'Look at these legs.' She held a tiny twist of hair between her finger and thumb. 'I've got the legs of some fifty-eight-year-old fell-walker. I look like the President of the Ramblers Association.
I'm sure this is true of most British authors, but the book struck me as a modern version of some Emily Bronte or Jane Austen novel. The lead character is of course named Emma; it's a story about lovers in different economic situations trying to overcome the expectations of family and society, and it's replete with little nuggets like this:
'Like a mountain goat, me. I used to go hiking a lot at home, when I was in my Cathy phase. Out on the wild and windy moors. Dead soulful I was. "I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"'

One Day is funny, bitter, hopeful, and tragic.

But I soldiered on, and perhaps you will, too. I wouldn't say you should necessarily rush out and move One Day to the top of your reading list, but if it finds its way onto that list, give it a go: I think you'll finish it, and I think you'll enjoy the time you spend in its crazy world.

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