Published only a couple of years ago and “now a major motion picture”, as they say, One Day is one of those much-lauded books that has received such widespread acclaim that it’s probably now considered de rigueur to deride it with a scoff and an unflattering comparison to Italo Calvino.
Fortunately, fashionable reviews aren’t my sort of thing, and whilst this is hardly Calvino, it’s not really a sensible comparison. This is David Nicholls: it’s light and slightly fluffy comedic prose with a heart. And One Day is perfectly functional in that respect.
This is a fairly run-of-the-mill love story. It follows two people growing up through the late 80s and the 1990s, with plenty of zeitgeisty stuff muddled into the story to appeal to the large segment of the young to middle-aged book-reading population who also graduated from university and started their “adult” life around the same time. Each chapter covers St Swithin’s day in a different year, presented largely chronologically except for the occasional (and largely predictable) dramatic aberration.
It’s well written and absorbing, with some relatively detailed characterisation for the genre. But I was left a little bit disappointed. I know that most reviews cite a deep, or a least emotional, response to this story, but I’m afraid I was left unmoved. I don’t think this is because I’m stony-hearted, because I find plenty of other literature moving. I just found myself getting a little fed up with it. The progress of the plot is so utterly, teeth-gnashingly predictable that the ending couldn’t come soon enough, and the interminable circuitous storylines and ruminations holding it back became just a little bit dull.
I far prefer some of David Nicholls’s other books – particularly Starter for Ten (also a “major motion picture”), which is a more contained and less self-aware story that has much more humour in it. I think Nicholls is a fine writer of these light easy-read books, and I very much enjoy his work.
I wonder if others’ emotional connection to this book is due to it reflecting aspects of their own lives. There’s a lot of talk in the reviews of it reminding people of their youth, and perhaps it’s that that engenders and facilitates the emotional connection. Perhaps that’s why I’m missing out.
Either way, this is definitely worth a read… just don’t necessarily expect the depth of response to the material that others report.