Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'One Day' by David Nicholls

‘One Day’ tells the story, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ style, of two characters, boy and girl, who over the years go through many ups and downs, good and bad relationships, career highs and lows, who we know will end up getting together by the end. Despite its predictability, we engage in the story as the characters are likeable and well-rounded, and the trials that come their way throughout their lives relate to our own, and are told with humour, perception and intelligence. The structure is quite appealing, in that we are brought back to the two main characters, Dexter and Emma, on the same day every year over the course of twenty years.
Dexter, handsome, wealthy, middle class and arrogant, is a rather volatile character who doesn’t display too much of substance when it comes to true character. In fact, he succumbs to alcohol and drug abuse which plague him for much of his life, and his often despicable behaviour, while adding drama and comedy, isn’t as believable as it could be. His self-centredness come to light when he fails to show love to his immediate family, and also when he fails to truly see or hear Emma, as she tries to counsel him or simply be a friend to him. In fact, I often found myself wondering what Emma could possibly see in him. However, as readers, we know that it is the fate of these two characters to get together, so I found myself, against my better judgement, wishing for this outcome, and hoping that his character would somehow redeem itself.
Emma was a great character-not immediately noticeable to men, but funny, intelligent and loyal to a fault, as was put to the test by Dexter’s often despicable behaviour. She was always a good friend, and calls us to question the qualities of such…she often told him directly if he needed to mend his ways. A teacher of drama, her true passion is writing, and she struggles with this in the evenings, chiding herself often if she’s struggling with writer’s block-she “wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.” While she’s certainly more grounded than Dexter, she’s not afraid of change, and is by no means boring. She has several relationships with unlikely partners, she takes on big theatrical projects in school and she leaves a secure career when she’s fed up with it. She’s from a working class background, and as such, understands what ‘work’ is and the value of money, unlike Dexter, who takes these things for granted and drifts along.
The setting of the story over twenty years, and in various locations is well done by Nicholls, who brings in elements from the culture of the time to make it believable. The prose is very accessible, but this is not a criticism-rather it is authentic in its simplicity, making the story more realistic, Much dialogue is used, which is not surprising for such a novel, and the third-person voice works well: we know then that we are ‘being told’ a story, and relax into a certain secure ’happy-ending’ expectation. Also, Nicholl’s descriptions are sharp and fresh, drawing us into the scenarios played out by these characters, showing his skill and talent as a writer.

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