Last summer, David Nicholls’ novel One Day hit the U.S. summer reading lists. This year, the movie will be released in August, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, the novel’s romantic couple. Early comments about the movie, such as “it won’t be able to capture the magic of the book” and “the trailer gives everything away,” drove me to read the book first because it consistently received rave reviews. The inventive narrative premise is a big part of the book’s irresistibility and tension. Can the movie keep us similarly bewitched?
One Day begins with Emma and Dexter the day after college graduation in 1988, wondering what their future holds while hesitantly attracted to one another. It is July 15, and each chapter checks in on them, together and separately, on that one day every year — the anniversary of their meeting — for the next 20 years. According to the U.K. Telegraph, the intention of author David Nicholls is to “create the impression of looking through a photo album, so that the characters seem to change, yet remain the same. Twenty years is a substantial sprawl, so my initial instinct was to cover landmarks – births, marriages, deaths. Instead, I’ve taken one day at random – like a date on a bank statement.”
Even though Emma and Dexter have a deep-seated instinct they belong together, they doubt and ignore their feelings and pursue what they think is right for them – for the beautiful and humble Emma, a life of meaning that makes a difference in the world; and for the charming, wealthy Dexter, a life of fun and fame. What keeps them apart and just friends feeds the humor and anticipation of what will happen next. And they are delightful characters — real, likeable and full of life — to spend 400+ pages.
One Day takes place for the most part in London. Some of the British locations, colloquialisms and cultural references were lost on me, but that in no way affected my enjoyment of the book. All that Emma and Dexter experience translates well into American 20- and 30-something ideals, motivations and beliefs. The book was originally published in the U.K. in 2009 and then in the U.S. as a Vintage Contemporaries paperback in 2010. The U.K. Telegraph described it as “a sleeper hit of huge proportions” and said the book became the highest-selling British novel of 2010. It did well in the U.S. also, landing on the New York Times best-seller list.
The New York Post claims One Day has “the potential to be the kind of movie — like ‘Annie Hall,’ or ‘Two for the Road,’ or ‘Terms of Endearment’ — that offers both big laughs and a knockout emotional punch.” Since I’ve finished the book, time for the trailer, which The Guardian says gives everything away. I can’t resist. Besides, I already know all the twists and turns experienced by Emma and Dexter, as their lives intersect, including the final, devastating surprise.