One Day (by David Nicholls)

14 12 2010

Angry Young Men book about the late eighties & nineties written in the noughties… David Nicholls’ One Day really is very very British book, with disillusionment about British society from 1988 till now really running through the entire novel. On the outset, though, this book is one long romance between 2 completely different people, with completely different interests, and completely different political views and ambitions. Wanna bet on the likelihood they will make it in the end?

Though the concept of One Day has an interesting premise, it is actually fairly simple: 2 protagonists (Emma & Dexter) whose lives (apart and together) you follow for 20 years on the same day every year – 15 July, incidentally also the birthday of one of this cat’s housemates! This book got rave reviews, from well-established print (and online) publications such as The Guardian and the New York Times, as well as dozens and dozens of favorable reader comments on internet fora, such as Goodreads and Amazon. Does this book live up to the hype? For me, it doesn’t really…

The book is enjoyable enough (though the characters themselves are anything but likeable, in my opinion) and it’s not a real struggle to get through the 437 pages, but to me something is lacking. Yes, there are jokes. Yes, there are cultural references (aplenty!). Yes, it’s a chronicle of love and life.  And if you are interested in what woes and worries life might bring you, then this is the book for you. One of the catchphrases at the back of the book is about not noticing what is right in front of you. It’s that kind of book…

Also, it’s the type of book that is very self-conscious[1]. So much so, that often Nicholls should have toned down some of the references, and some of the (I hesitate to say it) clichés he’s using throughout the book (Were they intentional? Maybe, maybe not…). Emma and Dexter are 2 Generation X-ers (well, besides the fact that both of them are thoroughly British, and that society commented on is of course also incredibly British, mostly the Blair years) who want to move forward in life, don’t quite know how to do that, and are consequently stuck in their lives and every year seem to end up clueless and in situations that they didn’t choose in the first place but just seemed to have rolled in.

Now, as a rule, I don’t like self-conscious authors. It’s mostly the smugness with which they write that closes the door for me. Here, the fact that Nichols tries to overcome self-possessed writing with a bittersweet romance redeems this book somewhat for me (will they, won’t they… ?  Yes even this cat can be a closet romantic sometimes, it’s really embarrassing, but there you go…). That and the fact that, OK, I admit, some of the Gen X situations they find themselves in really are very recognizable. On the other hand, I haven’t worked out yet, though, what it is that makes me not like this book as much as apparently 90% of the people who read One Day. Is it the fact that the book is chockfull of stereotypes and clichés (guess what jobs Dex and Em end up doing?  If you said ‘something in media’, you were dead on)? Or the fact that the romance story is clearly written with a romcom in mind? Or the fact that the writer wants to fancy it all up with smart Thomas Hardy quotes and societal commentary that really wants to cover almost everything, from losing yourself in alcohol and drugs because you can, over unfunny stand-up comedians, over not wanting to own a mobile phone in the late nineties (why would you want to be available 24/7?) to the explosion of the divorce rate at the end of the previous millenium…

I don’t know… it’s enjoyable enough, but not a book I’ll remember one year from now.

[1] BTW, one of the catsitters here said that for someone who doesn’t like self-conscious authors all that much, I sure do seem to like John Green a lot. Now let me explain… it’s probably just semantics here, but with a self-conscious author I mean the type of author who’s totally full of himself and his writing and who *knows* they’re writing a good book. That’s just being smug and often very tedious writing. What I don’t mind at all is self-confidence in a writer especially when it’s mixed with a lot of wit… enter my love for John Green’s novels 😉



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