One Day – David Nicholls

Ever read the poem ‘The Mower’ by Philip Larkin? I did, a few weeks ago prompted by something else I was reading. A reflection on accidentally killing a hedgehog between the blades of a lawnmower, the closing lines read,

we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

I thought of this poem when I finished ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls.

We meet the central characters, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, on 15 July, St Swithins Day in 1988 the day of their graduation from University in Edinburgh. She’s a working class Northerner with a double first and he’s a southern posh kid with a 2-2. They spend the night together chastely, (relatively), then part, probably for good.

The story of their lives unfolds then over the next 20 years told always and only through the events of the 15 July each year. Sometimes they run in parallel, sometimes intersecting on that day, but always thinking of each other, with longing, regret and unrequited love. The reader knows they are better together than apart, seen most clearly in Dexter whose c-list celebrity status in youth tv draws him into a dangerous and destructive downward spiral. Emma, despite her brilliance is lost for several years in a dead end job with a hopeless but unintentionally hilarious stand-up comedian boyfriend.

The book is very funny. Very funny, particularly the banter between the central characters. The story is wistful, moving, tragic, full of longing, disappointment, loyalty and love and the unbreakable bonds of true, lasting friendship. It’ll bring back memories of how you were and all you wanted to be. It’ll move you, anger you, frustrate you. It is a lovely, lovely book

I know that if you had given me this description I probably would have thought this wasn’t for me, too sentimental or mawkish, but honestly, it was absolutely brilliant. Perhaps because the era is mine. I graduated in 1987. I turned 40 in the same decade as the characters who must come to terms with the idealistic dreams of the early 20s turned to settled steadiness in later years. The cultural references are ones I recognise – the music, the books, the conversations, the drinks the historical events.

Whatever! It’s beautifully written. Highly recommended. Nice website here too.

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