One Day (David Nicholls)

**(*)

At one stage thought I was never going to get through this book club book.  Once Emma and Dexter had failed to get it together on their graduation day and set or drifted off on their separate paths I found the snapshots of July 15 in different years deeply dispiriting, in large part because the author insisted on telling you far too much rather than leaving you to intuit it for yourself.  So it was like one of those circular letters you get at Christmas.  And there was little affect, even sexual feeling between the parted maybe lovers was absent.

Occasionally there were some glimmers of hope.  On page 150 or so it occurred to me that as a character Ian Whitehead, Emma’s better-than-nothing boyfriend, resembled his creator as a novelist:  inept and desperate to please.  Eventually I embarked on a bus journey up to Town and back–it was dark and so the view from the window could not distract me–and managed to dispose of 150 pages that way.  I was even rewarded with a couple of decent jokes (from the acknowledgements at the end, it looks like Emma’s jokes were painstakingly harvested from the author’s friends over a period of years).

Things got a bit better after the dramatic plot twist, which I thought was a bit telegraphed, but not dreadfully so.  And at the end, when we returned to the beginning with Emma and Dexter wondering ‘What do I do now?’ after their night together, that was quite touching and it gave the narrative some structural tension in place of the dreary plodding on from year to year.

To enumerate the things that irritated me in this book would take a very long time.  The main characters you can’t believe in is bad enough, but there really are no other characters, except that perhaps Dexter’s mum and dad maybe ‘stand for’ him and Emma respectively.  At one stage I thought that D and E might represent the conflict between pagan and Christian values, but I don’t think so…In recruitment, you often have a list of competencies marked D for Desirable and E for Essential.  Desirable Dexter and Essential Emma–that’s not bad, not bad at all…

Why do you never get any idea of what they look like?  The colour of their eyes, for instance, since they must spend a great deal of time being gazed into.  Part of the plot engine is that lots of women want to get it on with Dexter because he is so Desirable, and this kind of thing works a lot better in a film where you can see the evidence.  And I think it should work better as a film–the first thing in making a book into a film is to throw away at least  95% of the words, which is exactly what is required here.

I was irritated to see that for the characters happiness was living in North London, while Brixton was the locale for Dexter’s night in hell and Stockwell was the place you would most certainly get your stereo nicked.  Then Russian literature was an extreme of worthy dullness such that it might be too much even for Emma.

He writes that the neck
of a broken bottle lying on the bank glittered in the moonlight, and
that the shadows lay black under the mill-wheel. There you have a
moonlight night before your eyes, but I speak of the shimmering light,
the twinkling stars, the distant sounds of a piano melting into the
still and scented air, and the result is abominable.

Well I suppose that when you know you’ve been found out a certain bitterness is natural, if childish…

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