One Day, David Nicholls (Hodder)
This review is twofold.
First, the story itself. "The international bestseller" One Day by David Nicholls. I did not care for this novel. But I read it through to its end and below there will be spoilers.
Second, I read this book as a Flipback. Tiny book and an amusing, novel experience...an amusing novel experience? Oh for the love of a comma!
Now for the second, first. Printed on 'bible paper' it's pretty much necessary to employ the lick-your-thumb-to-turn-page method and, until your eyes adjust, sometimes being able to see the print on the other side so clearly is distracting.
Flipbacks are so delightfully tiny they fit in most small bags and are perfect for the tram. I think the idea is to just use one hand to hold the book, like an e-reader, but I persisted mostly with the two-handed approach.
Somehow I felt betrayed by this book. I feel like it was marketed as literary fiction, though to be honest and fair I don't believe it was. Somehow I had that perception though. Then all the "celebrities" were reading it in my trashy magazines. I thought - wonderful! Literary fiction to the masses! Then they made a film and I thought I had better read it before seeing the movie. It's definitely well written*, engaging and a good novel. I just think that if it'd had Maeve Binchy's name on the cover I might have gone into it with the appropriate expectations.**
Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew (get used to hearing their full names, Nicholls refers to them thus all the time) meet at college. She's young and idealistic, he's charismatic and arrogantly entitled. They've just graduated from Edinburgh university and drunkenly hook up one night, though they don't sleep together, and eventually decide to be best mates. The book then checks in with each of them on the same date each year, spanning the next twenty years. It's a great concept.
Emma is smart and enigmatic, but she sneers at Dexter's wish to travel the world and then she's relegated to failing regional theatre and a dead end job in a shitty London Mexican restaurant.*** Meanwhile Dexter travels, is charming, and then gets work in television. This apparently entitles him to be condescending to Emma whenever they meet because Emma is a dowdy, writing girl who "wonders why sex, even when so enjoyable, leaves her so ill-tempered."**** The reader's sympathy is nearly always with Dexter as he struggles with the rise of fame, the loss of fame, relationships, family and aging.
The characters are self-centred and on the clichéd (ok, ok "everyman") side. Their problems are annoying. Is this kind of novel designed to make me get myself out of a rut? Am I supposed to identify with the characters and their haplessness? Maybe this is why I enjoy young adult literature so much. Even when the characters wallow it isn't the same; there's the future to look forward to - there tends to be some kind of hope.
And what about the ending of One Day, I hear you ask. SPOILERS: So Dexter the cad finally gets the girl (fortunately Emma has become less dowdy in the intervening years) and, because of Emma's love and all, he gets back on track: becomes a better boyfriend, a better son, a better father, a better human being. So, her job done, David Nicholls kills the girl.
Let's not talk about it anymore.
At least I could imagine this as I read:
Go and watch him sing I've Just Seen A Face.
*Though, occasionally boring. On page 343 "Emma felt the hot tears of humiliation prick her eyes".
**This is not mean to sound disparaging. Yes, I am a MB fan. You knew that already.
***Don't get me started. This didn't make sense!
****Seriously, I don't want get started. Emma was "so very British" while Dexter was allowed to enjoy love and sex and it made me SO MAD.