One Day (novel)

One Day

First edition
Author David Nicholls
Cover artist Craig Ward
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date
11 June 2009
Media type Print
Pages 448 pp
ISBN 0-340-89696-5

One Day is a novel by David Nicholls, published in 2009. Each chapter covers the lives of two protagonists on 15 July, St. Swithin's Day, for twenty years. The novel attracted generally positive reviews, and was named 2010 Galaxy Book of the Year.[1] Nicholls adapted his book into a screenplay; the feature film, also titled One Day, was released in August 2011.


Dexter and Emma spend the night together following their graduation from Edinburgh University in 1988. They talk about how they will be once they are 40. While they do not become romantically involved completely, this is the beginning of their friendship. The novel visits their lives and their relationship on July 15 in successive years in each chapter for 20 years. Emma wants to improve the world and begins writing and performing plays, which remain unsuccessful, while Dexter travels through the world, drinking and hooking up with women. Eventually both move to London where Emma becomes a waitress in Kentish Town at a Tex-Mex restaurant, while Dexter becomes a successful television presenter.

While there are various attempts from both sides to start a relationship, coincidences stop Emma and Dexter from getting together and while they have relationships with other people, they stay best friends, both secretly longing for the other. They are drawn together closer through a holiday together and the death of Dexter's mother.

Emma breaks up with her boyfriend, Ian, after realising she is creating a life with someone she doesn't love. During this time Emma is able to find a job as a teacher, after various years of struggle, despite a "double-first degree". Dexter meanwhile develops a drinking and drug problem and watches his career collapse. The friendship between Emma and Dexter grows more and more difficult, after Emma is constantly hurt by Dexter who attempts to hide his feelings for her from both her and himself. After being treated rudely by Dexter at a restaurant, Emma breaks up the friendship.

At the wedding of Emma's former roommate, Emma and Dexter meet again. Emma admits that she wants Dexter back. At this point of time she has just ended an affair with the headmaster of the school she teaches in, Dexter has fallen in love with another woman, Sylvie, who is pregnant. At this reunion, Dexter invites Emma, who is disappointed by the situation, to his wedding.

Emma tries to overcome her problems and begins to write, while Dexter is unemployed and overwhelmed by his role as a father after his divorce from Sylvie, who was having an affair. Emma leaves to go to Paris in the hope of writing a sequel to her first successful children's novel. When Dexter visits her in Paris, he learns that she met someone and likes him and for the first time admits his feelings to her. After talking about their relationship, Emma chooses Dexter.

Emma and Dexter form a relationship and are happy together, and get married, but Emma wants a child. The couple find themselves frustrated by the failing attempts to have a child. Dexter, however, is able to open a deli-cafe and finds himself on his way back to being successful again. On the anniversary of the day they met after graduation and the day they got together, Emma and Dexter have an appointment to see a house. While travelling there, Emma has a bike accident and dies. After her death, Dexter finds himself in despair. He starts to drink again and provokes people in bars in order to get beaten. He is comforted by his ex-wife Sylvie, his father and his daughter. Three years after Emma's death he travels together with his daughter to Edinburgh where he and Emma met and they climb the same hill together that Emma and Dexter climbed 19 years ago.

The book ends with a vivid and lingering memory of what happened after that stay together 20 years before - their goodbye kiss after the evening, promise to stay in touch and goodbye.

Major themes

Writing in The Times, John O'Connell writes, "For, in spite of its comic gloss, One Day is really about loneliness and the casual savagery of fate; the tragic gap between youthful aspiration and the compromises that we end up tolerating. Not for nothing has Nicholls said that it was inspired by Thomas Hardy."[2] A critic in thelondonpaper observes that One Day "may be a love story, but it’s no fairytale: Nicholls doesn’t shy from the harsh side of growing up, the disillusionment, regrets, and random cruelty of life.".[3] According to Jonathan Coe (Guardian Books of the Year 2009), "It's rare to find a novel which ranges over the recent past with such authority, and even rarer to find one in which the two leading characters are drawn with such solidity, such painful fidelity, to real life."


The novel attracted mainly positive reviews. Writing in The Guardian, Harry Ritchie called it "a very persuasive and endearing account of a close friendship - the delight Emma and Dexter take in one another, the flirting and the banter that sometimes hide resentment and sometimes yearning, the way the relationship shifts and evolves as the years pass."[4] Ritchie comments, "Just as Nicholls has made full use of his central concept, so he has drawn on all his comic and literary gifts to produce a novel that is not only roaringly funny but also memorable, moving and, in its own unassuming, unpretentious way, rather profound."[4] This story is reminiscent of Same Time, Next Year.

Elizabeth Day of The Observer also praises the novel, although criticising "its structural flaws", since "some of the most important events in their life are never recounted." Despite this, she concludes by commenting "there is no doubt that One Day is a beguiling read. But although I really liked it, I wanted desperately to love it because Nicholls is, I think, a far better writer than this format allows him to be."[5]

The Times deflected comparisons to When Harry Met Sally..., "saccharine" assumptions, and expectations that the "more literary" will snobbishly gratify themselves that they never read "'commercial' romantic comedies with cartoons and squiggly writing on the cover. Well, be convinced: One Day is a wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate and often unbearably sad. It's also, with its subtly political focus on changing habits and mores, the best British social novel since Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up."[2]

Author Nick Hornby also praised the book on his blog, calling it "A big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable on-off love story." His blurb is used in some editions of the book, such as the U.S. paperback edition.[6]

In 2010, the novel was named Popular Fiction Book of the Year at the UK's annual Galaxy National Book Awards ceremony, and was later granted the accolade of Galaxy Book of the Year.[1]

Feature film adaptation

Main article: One Day (2011 film)

At the time of the book's publication, Nicholls wrote that he was adapting his novel as a film script. He acknowledged the difficulties in casting people who "could be both students and middle-aged! But I think we’ve found a way."[3]

The film was directed by Lone Scherfig for Random House Films and Focus Features, with a theatrical release in August 2011. Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess portrayed Emma and Dexter, respectively.[7] Filming took place in England, Scotland and France.[8]


  1. 1 2 "David Nicholls One Day is Galaxy Book of the Year". GNBA. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
  2. 1 2 O'Connell, John (3 June 2009). "One Day by David Nicholls". The Times. Retrieved 2009-11-22.
  3. 1 2 Moggach, Lottie (9 June 2009). "David Nicholls - One Day book review". The London Paper. Retrieved 2009-11-22.
  4. 1 2 Ritchie, Harry (4 July 2009). "Days of our lives". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-11-22.
  5. Day, Elizabeth (12 July 2009). "Boy meets girl, again and again". The Observer. Retrieved 2009-11-22.
  6. Hornby, Nick. Blog entry, 3 April 2009.
  7. Plath, James (July 17, 2010). "Anne Hathaway Starts Filming One Day, Based on the New York Times Bestseller". DVD Town. Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  8. One Day at the Internet Movie Database

External links

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