One Day by David Nicholls


My professor Darryl said this book made him cry. I rarely have such experiences and wanted very much to capture the same feeling, that I immediately went to the nearest library to borrow the book.

My classmate, who watched the film version starring Ann Hathway, didn’t like it and asked me how the book was. By then, I was half way through and told her I hadn’t cried yet, which I had expected to by Chapter Three, from what Darryl said.

I guess a romance book written by a male author will touch male and female readers differently. Like Nicholas Sparks, another popular romance writer which I do not have an affinity with, there isn’t a connection, perhaps because the story is often seen from the point-of-view (POV) of the male protagonist.

Speaking of  POVs, a very important lesson a writer learned first is never to change POV abruptly in a paragraph. Most readers may not even notice this, having been adapted to the omniscient view of television story-telling. However, in books, this is very disruptive to good readers. Well, in the first few chapters, David Nicolls does this many times, changing the POV from Dexter to Emma.

The story traces the relationship, from friendship to marriage, by focussing on one day of Dex and Em’s life, 15 July, from the year 1988 to 2007. I persevere through the book because Emma is exactly the same age as me, and throughout the late eighties to the new millennium, we were experiencing the same life-changing moments of graduating from university, establishing a career and dating. Except, of course, other people’s lives often seem more fun than mine, that’s why it’s been written in a book.

Em and Dex meet in a one night stand in 1988 but although she wants more than friendship, Dex wants to play the scene and travel. And he did, smoking and drinking and having relationships, while she lives up to the expectation of a responsible adult and has a career as a teacher, and meets a nice man, but who never quite live up to Dex.

And so we go through 435 pages of their 19-year lives, reading about missed opportunities. Personally, I don’t know what she sees in him, but then, love is blind, isn’t it? He takes her for granted, and even in a date, would look at other women and make plans to be with them later. Isn’t it terrible? To be with a man and then seeing that he would rather be with someone else, someone he just laid eyes on? A real jerk!

So what is so sad about the book? **Spoiler Alert**** This is not a suspense, so it doesn’t really matter if you know the ending. For the experience of this book is not in the ending but to go through the journey with them. Still, if you rather not know, stop reading here.

Dex and Em finally get married and to end the book at this juncture would really be non-climatic. So just as Em is about to meet Dex to look at their new matrimonial house in 2004, she meets with an accident and dies.

(My friend recently had a breast cancer relapse, and remarked that she would be the first among us to die. My first retort was, who’s to know if this would be true, and reading this book sort of confirms it.)

Like K-drama Reply 1994 (, I kind of enjoy the nostalgic look back at how my life has turned up, living my young adult lives then.

Reading the book had, at one moment, inspired me to write my own memoir based on one day from 1988 to 1998. But then I remember what is often told to us: if your story is all nice and smooth, without conflicts and tribulations, then there isn’t any story to tell.

John Gardner, in his book On Becoming a Novelist, said ‘A psychological wound is helpful, if it can be kept in partial control, to keep the novelist driven, Some fatal childhood accident for which one feels responsible and can never fully forgive oneself; a sense that one never quite earned one parents’ love, shame about one’s origins-belligerent defensive guilt about one’s race or country upbringing or the physical handicaps of one’s parents – or embarrassment about one’s own physical appearance: all these are promising signs. It may or may not be true that happy, well-adjusted children can become great novelists, but insofar as guilt or shame bend the soul inward they are likely under the right conditions(neither too little discomfort not too much), to serve the writer’s project.’

I lack all that. So I guess it’s best for me to focus on some fictional character’s distress and write fictions like David Nicholls. I leave the last word from this

I leave the last word from this book: “It would be inappropriate, undignified, at 38, to conduct friendships or love affairs with the ardour or intensity of a 22-year-old. Falling in love like that? Writing poetry? Crying at pop songs? Dragging people into photo booths? Taking a whole day to make a compilation tape? Asking people if they wanted to share your bed, just for company? If you quoted Bob Dylan or TS Eliot or, god forbid, Brecht at someone these days they would smile politely and step quietly backward, and who would blame them? Ridiculous, at 38, to expect a song or book or film to change your life.”


About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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One Response to One Day by David Nicholls

  1. Esther says:

    I remember there was this part when Em told Dex: “I love you but I don’t like you anymore.” This speech leaves a deep impact on me. I was young then…in my world, there’s only like or dislike. Subsequently as I grew older, I realize one can have feelings of both love and hate to the same person at the same time. Life can so complicated.

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