In many ways the novel is a cautionary tale; an exploration of how we treat, and often fail to nurture, love, and a warning against failing to act from the heart and allowing oneself to be swept up in the triviality of everyday existence, whilst neglecting the most important elements of one's life. In having the novel culminate in the late 2000s Nicholls forces the reader into self-evaluation, and for those of the same generation as the characters, the novel takes on an added significance. Indeed, the novel is very firmly grounded in the time period it depicts to the point, at times, of cliché.
Choosing to focus on just one day each year is an interesting device and one that lends itself well to exploring the evolution of the central characters' lives, however, it also requires a degree of exposition in each chapter, usually via flashbacks, which can irritate a little and provides a strange juxtaposition in a novel that moves forwards so rapidly. The writing though is fresh and flows well, the dialogue evocative of the period described. There are certainly amusing moments; some embarrassing encounters, and witty observations, but too often the novel feels a little dull.
Whilst the over-arching concept is a good one, there are problems. The initial meeting and nurturing of the relationship involves a considerable degree of contrivance given the nature of Dexter's character, and it requires a leap of faith to believe that, whilst moving from one meaningless fling to another, Dexter would go out of his way to draw Emma, to all intents and purposes an equally meaningless fling, into his life. More problematic is one's relationship with the central characters; Dexter is vile for the majority of the novel and, even after becoming a father, shows no signs of maturity and no redeeming features beyond the superficial. Emma on the other hand, whilst being fundamentally a sympathetic character, is frustratingly directionless and one roots, rather than for Dexter to see the light and sweep Emma off her feet, for Emma to treat Dexter as he deserves, and cut the toxic relationship out of her life permanently. These flaws fundamentally undermine a lot of what the novel attempts and, ultimately, leave one a little cold to the novel as a whole.
Reviews of One Day on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of One Day on Amazon (US)
Movie Adaptation of One Day on Amazon (UK)
Movie Adaptation of One Day on Amazon (US)