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30th June
2011
written by Steph

By this point everyone on the planet has read One Day, so once again, I am late to the party. But hopefully that means I don’t have to bring the gift of exposition! Well, ok, for those of you who have been living in the land of Classics or non-fiction or whatever, here is a brief idea of what the book is about: On the eve of graduating from university, Dexter & Emma spend one night together and kick off a friendship that, through ups and downs, will last them a lifetime. One Day follows Dex & Em on the anniversary of their meeting each and every year, and in so doing, readers spend both something close to 20 years and just 20 days with the duo. In many ways, One Day appears to be your conventional chick lit novel, the unique premise not withstanding. I’m not sure I would have been drawn to it when I first saw it over in the ARC shelves at BookPage if not for the premise, so while it may seem gimmicky, you’ve got to admire Nicholls for doing something different to set his book apart. I don’t read tons of chick lit anymore, but so much of it is formulaic, that in many ways I feel like the overwhelming popularity of One Day can be attributed to it being a breath of fresh air. That said, it took a trip to Naples, Florida where I knew I’d be lazing by the pool and on the beach for many hours to finally decide that I should see what this sensation was all about. Most of the reviews I’ve read about One Day have either been effusively positive, or sour and negative. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. For the bulk of the novel, I read on, not because I was all that interested in what was going to happen to the characters or because I couldn’t not keep reading, but simply because it was easier to continue on than it would have been to pick up a new book and start fresh. I wasn’t really very impressed and certainly couldn’t figure out why so many people were in love with this book. I think for me, the biggest problem I had is that I didn’t really connect with either of the main characters, and I felt like I vacillated between loathing one and then the other. If Emma was supposed to be endearing early on because she was bookish and unaware of her own attractiveness, Nicholls completely backfired since I just found her an insufferable prig. Her utter lack of self-confidence and self-deprecating talk wasn’t charming or cool, it was annoying and I have no idea why Dexter would want to hang out with her. Of course, Dexter himself is no prince and spends much of the novel as an alcoholic douchebag, so while I admit that it was never entirely clear to me why they were friends, I suppose it was better that they spent their time together rather than inflicting their miserableness on other people. Another thing that I think made the book harder to get into was its structure. While the “one day” idea is an interesting concept in theory, it is a device that lends itself to an awful lot of telling rather than showing. Every chapter would involve so much exposition because the entire past year would need to be explained, and at times it could just feel rather clunky. Still, given this constraint, I would say that I felt that Nicholls was successful in making his characters grow and change over the years, and I did really feel like I had spent a lot of time with Em & Dex, gradually watching them transform, sometimes for the better sometimes not. It’s no small feat for a book that just focuses on one day at a time to pull this off, so kudos to Nicholls for that. Although I will say that it kind of seems ridiculous that so many momentous things would happen on the exact same date every year, but this is fiction, so some leeway must be allowed, I suppose. I guess it wouldn’t be all that interesting to read about Emma staying in bed and eating take-away Chinese and waxing her legs, even if that would have been far more realistic. As I said earlier, I spent the majority of the novel not exactly rooting for (or even really liking) the characters, and yet I admit that near the end, when this tragic event takes place that I totally knew was going to happen because I had read enough other reviews to suspect that things did not end all hunky-dory, I still was really affected by it. Such that even though I was sitting on a plane, wedged between two rather bulky gentlemen, I started to tear up and it took an awful lot of willpower not to start weeping amongst strangers. I do not necessarily mean that the writing in this section was fantastic or that I suddenly came to care deeply for Em & Dex, as I fully admit that I may have been over-empathizing with them, thinking about how I would feel if I were in their situation, because I’m a selfish bitch that way. I can’t say that ever understood that bond between those two specifically, but I guess I did respond to it in some way in the end, so clearly Nicholls was able to touch a nerve. I do think that the even it question was kind of overly maudlin and something you would expect in a movie more than you would a book, but I guess now that the book is being made into a film, as we all knew it would, everything makes sense in the world. So, in the end, much about this book was predictable and unremarkable, but it was still a nice way to change things up, and even though I will not chalk this up as one of the great love stories of our times, I think it was perfectly well-suited for reading at the beach or by the pool (I don't know if I would have the patience for it otherwise). Thanks to Nadia over at A Bookish Way of Life, who sent me the copy I read. I have to say, though, that while I did watch and enjoy the last film adaptation of a Nicholls novel (Starter for Ten), I have no real desire to see One Day on the big screen. Not least because I don’t think I could make it through nearly two hours of Anne Hathaway’s ATROCIOUS English accent. Wasn’t Emma from Northern England? More importantly, wasn’t Emma English and not whatever the hell Hathaway is doing in the trailer? Sooooo painful. Why couldn’t they have just cast an English actress? Don’t believe me? What the trailer in all its putrid accent glory right here and now! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! YouTube Preview Image Rating: 3.5 out of 5

22 Comments

  1. 06/30/2011

    Evidently I’m from the land of whatever, because not only have I not read this one, I’ve never even heard of it. Or Starter for 10.

  2. I’ve seen this one everywhere, but nothing has made me want to drop everything and read it. Even though Ian Rankin said it was one of his favorite books in the last year… and I love him.

    So this is one where I thought I’d catch the movie, Anne Hathaway or no…

  3. I’ve been curious about this one for awhile, but like Jenn, I haven’t had the urge to drop everything and read it yet. I did just grab a used copy off a $1 table at a local bookstore, so maybe I’ll bring it to the beach this weekend 🙂

  4. 06/30/2011

    Isn’t that awful, to feel the need to cry on an airplane?!!! Somehow too I am always *finishing* books on planes, so this situation arises a lot! :–)

    For me, this was one of those books that the ending and its emotional impact made me like the whole book better.

    I agree her accent work is spotty on the trailer, but I can TELL from watching the trailer that I would be sobbing uncontrollably at the end. It’s just one of those endings!

  5. It sounds as though our feelings on this book are exactlty the same. Like you, I did have an emotional reaction at the end, but the journey there was so long and contrived that I just felt a bit manipulated.

    Thanks for showing the trailer – I hadn’t seen that before. I agree with you on that too. It really should have been an English actress 🙁 I’m sure I’ll watch it at some point, but I wont be rushing out to the cinema. Such a shame because I loved Starter for Ten (both book and film)

  6. JoV
    07/01/2011

    I haven’t read Starter for Ten and really like to. I’m on you on this one and also think Hollywood shouldn’t cast an American speaking English accent. I didn’t like Dexter that much, thought he is better off not be in Em’s life. Great review. Enjoy it as always!

  7. 07/05/2011

    @ softdrink: I don’t think Starter For Ten was nearly as big a deal as One Day was! I didn’t even realize it had first been a book when I randomly queued the movie up through Netflix. But One Day! It’s been everywhere! Including this blog now! 😉
     
    @ jenn: Well, I’m not Ian Rankin, but I certainly wouldn’t call this book a favorite! 😉 I have no desire to see the film, but probably I would have if I hadn’t read the book…
     
    @ Kim: I think you got a great deal on this book! It’s certainly worth reading if only so you can know what everyone is talking about and have an opinion of your own. Certainly this hasn’t made me a fan of the novel, but I am glad that I read it.
     
    @ rhapsody: Ugh! Crying in public is the worst! I don’t fly all that often so I guess I don’t wind up in tears on planes that often, but I think that the next time I take a trip I must certainly plan to have a happy/funny book on hand instead!
     
    @ Jackie: You’re absolutely right that the ending was very manipulative. I didn’t think about it too much at the time, but I am not sure that Nicholls earned the emotional payoff that he foists on his readers. I remember being angry at myself for falling for his tricks because really up until that moment, I was so ambivalent towards the characters!
    And yes, really any English actress would have been better than Ann Hathaway in this role. It’s not like you’ve got a lack of them!
     
    @ JoV: I think that it is certainly possible for American’s to do a good English actress (I think Renée Zelweger did fine as Bridget Jones) just as some Brits can do fine American accents… but it’s clearly not something everyone can do!

  8. 07/01/2011

    I’m also in the “love it side”, but, like you said and I completely agree, a lot depends on whether you identify with the characters and their lives.

    Anne Hathaway’s English… I’m also not sure if I can deal with it again. It was bad enough seeing her play Jane Austen. She sounds like an American making fun of Americans trying to do an English accent.

  9. 07/01/2011

    Nice review, Steph! The premise of the book looks quite interesting and unique, but from your review it looks like Nicholls hasn’t been able to pull it off. It is interesting that Nicholls toys with the reader’s heartstrings in the end. It has become predictable these days even in philosophical novels, but it never fails to work its magic 🙂 I didn’t know that ‘Starter for 10′ was based on Nicholls’ novel – I loved the movie! James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall were so good! I didn’t know that there was a Naples in Florida – interesting!

  10. 07/01/2011

    I just finished reading another review of this book over on Jenny’s site that gave the impression that the book was sort of throwaway and forgettable. From your reaction, it also sounds like it was rather lackluster, and had some really annoying characters. Since I tend not to like to be annoyed throughout entire books, only to be manipulated into tender emotion at the author’s clumsy whims, I think I am probably going to skip this one. And since I am not all that fond of Anne Hathaway after seeing her in the horrid Rachel Getting Married, I think I will probably be skipping the movie as well.

  11. 07/01/2011

    This one is on my shelf and I was looking forward to reading it. I guess I still am, if for no other reason than I am just really curious to find out what I will think about it.

  12. 07/02/2011

    I haven’t read this either although I’ve seen loads of people reading it on my commute. I actually think the premise is really interesting (and reminds me of an old film about a couple who have an adulterous relationship where they meet once a year which lasts their whole life – I can’t remember the name though) so I think I may get to it one day. Nice review Steph.

  13. 07/05/2011

    @ Alex: Yes, I remember reading your review of this on your blog and you said that there were certainly parts that hit you close to home… I think that if anything in either of the characters’ lives had been similar to my own college experiences, etc., I might have felt more of a connection to them (or at least something more than irritation), but I personally felt really alienated from them.
    Also, I know I saw Hathaway portray Austen, and yet I don’t remember the accent being as egregious as it seems to be now…
     
    @ Vishy: Nicholls does definitely do some things right with this novel, but I honestly think that if the characters hard been just a bit more likable early on it would have been more successful. Some of the issues had very little to do with the format he chose and were more issues to do with the people he chose to write about!
     
    @ zibilee: Ugh… I really was annoyed for 3/4 of this novel! Normally that doesn’t bother me, but I think there are different ways characters can be annoying, and the one I have the least tolerance for is characters who are selfish and oblivious and simpering… This novel had that in spades! Definitely not one that I will hold near and dear!
     
    @ Kathleen: Yes, I think it’s certainly a quick enough read that if you already have it on hand you might as well give it a go. Sometimes it’s good to know what the masses are reading! 😉
     
    @ sakura: I feel like I had to read it because of my curiosity… I knew going in that this was a fairly polarizing book, but it’s really interesting that so many people love this book. I don’t see how that’s possible, personally, but I guess I just wasn’t sufficiently invested in the characters for that to be the case!
     
    @ kay: I hope you have fun with this one! I am glad I had a paperback copy as it was perfect for on the beach! I hate bringing my ereader to the beach!
     
    @ Andrew: Oh, I frequently miss out on all kind of global phenomena, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about it!
    Also, I would have though you had been paid back with having parts like Bridget Jones and Jane Austen go to Americans! 😉 Though the accents were not nearly so bad then, at least not memorably so!

  14. kay
    07/03/2011

    I got this one on my e-reader when it was all over the blogs and still haven’t read it. I will. But I don’t think I want to see the movie; I never understand why they pick someone and force them to take on an accent like that, when there are dozens of actresses who naturally have it!

  15. 07/05/2011

    I’m embarrassed now – I live in England, and this is an English novel that is apparently a big global phenomenon, and I’ve never heard of it. I must be completely out of touch! To be honest, though, it doesn’t sound like my kind of book at all, so perhaps I did hear of it but blocked it out.

    On English accents, yes it is atrocious but I think we fully deserve it – when we wanted to make a film about Gandhi we cast Ben Kingsley, not an Indian actor. And think of Alec Guinness playing an Arab prince in Lawrence of Arabia, and so many other examples. Maybe Anne Hathaway’s accent is some kind of cosmic revenge.

  16. 07/05/2011

    I’ve not read it either – but I’m not even in this century most of the time – but I like your good honest review. You didn’t appreciate the writing, but the book moved you in parts. Good review!

  17. 07/05/2011

    Oh, goodness. I’ve not been buried under non-fiction OR classics and have never heard of this novel. EEK, what kind of blogger am I?!

    In a way, its premise reminds me of the movie 500 Days of Summer, which is an unfair comparison as I’ve neither read the book nor watched the movie I’m comparing it to. But there, life isn’t fair, and comparisons aren’t always just. It sounds interesting, at least 🙂

  18. 07/06/2011

    Steph, I loved your review of this book! You were spot on! Its definitely hard to care for either character because they are such unlikeable fools. And the ending was predictable and stereotypical in the sense that of course it was the woman who dies, whilst the man keeps on trucking along with the next woman (who conveniently works for him). Definitely not a book I recommended and as for the movie – I completely agree with you! What the frack is with that accent of Hathaway’s?

  19. 07/10/2011

    @ Nicola: If there’s one blogger I would not expect to have read this book, you are certainly her! I think there are parts of this book that you would appreciate as well, but overall, I don’t think you’re missing out on much.
     
    @ Aarti: I have seen 500 Days of Summer, and I do think there are some similarities, though of course this novel focuses on a much longer span, but certainly the focusing on the importance of single days is similar to both. Tony hated 500 Days, but I admit there were elements of it that I liked, and I might watch that film again, but have no interest in going any further with One Day!
     
    @ Nadia: Yes, the ending was a bit predictable, wasn’t it? I forgot to say this in my review, but there were some rather obvious shades of the novel/movie “Love Story” here… At least that film doesn’t have Ann Hathaway botching an English accent!

  20. 07/11/2011

    I haven’t read this yet (although I do have it at home) but your review made me laugh out loud – thank you! For some reason, I have picked it up a few times and put it back down again.

    Have you read Starter for 10 (as well as seeing the movie)? That is one of the funniest books I have ever read – brilliant!

  21. mee
    07/12/2011

    I wonder now if there would be a whole generation of authors writing books with movie adaptation in mind. More revenue for everybody. I’m skipping the book but I might just catch the movie, just so I know the jist of it 😉

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