Review: One Day by David Nicholls

UK movie book cover of One Day by David Nicholls

One Day has been on my TBR since Spring 2011 – that’s almost three years, people. Numerous people have told me that it’s a literary masterpiece, it’s featured on almost every TBR list I’ve ever written and it was made into a film that actually looks pretty good.  Now I have actually read it and it is a literary masterpiece. So there.

Plot summary: ‘I can imagine you at forty,’ she said, a hint of malice in her voice. ‘I can picture it right now.’

He smiled without opening his eyes. ‘Go on then.’

15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways.

So where will they be on this one day next year?

And the year after that? And every year that follows?

Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY.

This is a completely unique concept for me – twenty chapters, each following Emma and Dexter on the 15th July of every year from 1988 to 2008. It emphasises how people and circumstances can change from year to year, but also more drastically over a long period of time.

It is a romance novel, as you can probably guess from the smoochy front cover, but it’s more than that. To me, it’s more a novel of friendship. I’ve discussed before how a well-written friendship between compatible characters can draw me into a book better than any romantic sub-plot, and the same holds true here. I was way more interested in the trust and respect between Emma and Dexter than any will-they-won’t-they tension.

Neither of them are particularly likeable – Emma is preachy, naive and has those annoying self-esteem issues where they won’t shut up about how worthless they are. Dexter is the opposite, which I would assume is the point, selfish, arrogant and drunk 90% of the time. However, because you read them from both their own perspectives and the other’s, it’s impossible from them to really irritate you.

You can almost watch Emma and Dexter change as they become aware of their own faults through the years. In most novels, you can see characters change, but mostly in leaps and bounds due to the limited time period. Here it’s a gradual process and it’s beautifully done.

It’s just written so well. David Nicholls didn’t fall into the slightly obvious trap of every single event miraculously falling on the 15th July. Life just doesn’t work like that, however nice it would be if it did. Instead you’re left to work out what has happened in the intervening year with implications and hints. It’s usually reasonably obvious, but you’re not bludgeoned in the face with it either. Sometimes it drove me mad when the characters were hinting about something important that was going to happen on the 16th July but then I’d have to wait to figure out what the hell it was!

I did struggle to see Emma and Dexter as middle-aged by the end of the book. In my head I still had a young Anne Hathaway in my head (completely inappropriate nationality aside, she’s a good fit) even when Emma was supposed to be forty. The characters do age realistically, but the story moves so quickly my imagination had trouble keeping up!

The ending really affected me, but only temporarily. I cried (real sobby tears, not just a mild eye-watering) and had to be hugged until I could finish reading, but now that I’ve finished I find that it doesn’t bother me all that much. I think the story went on a little too long after The Twist… really it should have stopped there, or perhaps the year after. It seemed to lose it’s way a little in the last two chapters/years or so and that negated the emotional ‘punch’ a little. 

I haven’t seen the film as I don’t think I could stomach Anne Hathaway trying to do a Yorkshire accent but I really did enjoy One Day. If you’re looking for romance, friendship, a great story or maybe just for something a bit different, I swear it’s here.

Read Charlotte’s review of One Day at The Lit Addicted Brit.


  1. Ellie says:

    I loved this book. I agree that it is more a novel of friendship which I think is why I could read it and enjoy it (romance tends to irritate me). It is such a brilliant concept and it had me bawling my eyes out more than once. I'd definitely avoid the film though, I regret watching it!

  2. I'm so relieved that you liked it!! I saw this review pop up on my phone and I have to admit that I skim read it first to make sure that you loved it too and that I wasn't going to have to try to do that thing that people do where they try to tell you that really you did love something. Saved by the mutual love!

    I also loved the repetition of the same day and that it was used so well – it didn't feel gimmicky and it was just wonderful. It was one of my favourite books of 2011 and I proper cried my way through THAT CHAPTER. I just didn't see it coming and there was nothing dignified about my response. I had to text my friend to warn her not to read the ending on the train because that's just not good public reading!

    I haven't seen the film (although I was sort of planning on watching it) but from Ellie's comment, I'm going to strike that off my list of things to do.

    1. admin says:

      I reread your review after I'd finished writing this one and it made me happy you loved it too. I was sure we'd talked about it before but couldn't remember if it was you or not… Anyway, I did love it, so no need to tell me my feelings are sadly mistaken 🙂

      I didn't see it coming either. I was SO SURE that they'd realise they were never meant to be and that they were better off as friends… but no. Couldn't believe it when it happened.

      I'm… curious. I watched the trailer yesterday and it looks alright, accent aside. What if we watched it together, during the fabled mutual 24-hour read-a-thon?

  3. For reasons best known to itself, my computer at work won't let me reply directly to your comment but YES, let's do that! That's an awesome idea and something that we must do.

  4. Dot says:

    Loved this book, please don't watch the film as not a patch on the book!

  5. Ellie Warren says:

    This has been on my TBR for years too. I was going to just give in and watch film, but urgh, fake accents.

  6. I read this book early last year and fell in love with it. Can't say the same for the movie, which I saw after reading the book. I love Dexter and Emma's relationship and how they grow old together. Have you read Love, Rosie? Because One Day reminds me of that book!

    Kimi of Geeky Chiquitas

  7. I agree about the ending. The twist was predictable in a way, but even then it would've been okay if it hadn't continued afterwards. Well done on What's In A Name!

  8. Joy says:

    Hopping over from the What's in a Name challenge. I saw the movie, but Anne Hathaway could read the phone book and I'd watch. I probably should read the book because the movie was pretty forgettable.

    Joy's Book Blog

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