One Day I’ll Never Get Back

I know that it’s the easiest thing in the world to write a bad review of something. I get it. It’s much easier to be snarky and dismissive than to write a positive and appreciative review.

I used to read The Believer, a magazine which makes a virtue of never being snarky or dismissive. I’m just not that virtuous.

The best thing I can say about David Nicholls’ novel One Day is that I read it in one day. I don’t normally read 430 pages in a single day, but it was shabbat and this was the shabbiest thing I have read in a long time. I was racing to finish it and move on. Trite, insulting, easy and dull. Just awful.

One Day charts the relationship between a single couple on the same day each year for 20 years from the date of their graduation in 1988. This silly device, that movie producers will call “high concept“, allows the author to leave much of the plot off screen. If it doesn’t happen on July 15th, it doesn’t appear on the page. Yawn.

Nicholls uses overworked cliches instead of description and setting. Loved-up losers turning up late for work? Must be ’93. Perpetual Peter Pan plays too much Tomb Raider? That’ll be the year 2000, then. Nicholls never misses a chance to chuck in a cheap reference to make the reader say, “I remember that”.

Ever the self-conscious observationist, Nicholls calls himself out having his lead character decry the tendency of people to fall back on repetitive riffs. The first time you heard the joke about how you don’t see white dog poo anymore, it was funny. That was a while ago.

Nicholls writes:

“… while it drove her crazy she knew that she encouraged it too, the girls sitting and grinning while the boys did tricks with matchsticks and jammed on Children’s TV or Forgotten Confectionery of the Seventies. Spangles Disease, the maddening non-stop cabaret of boys in pubs.”

It’s a neat observation. Spangles Disease: The inflammation of one’s comedic patience through the unqualified repetition of a shared reminiscence. Nicholls’ novel is riddled with Spangles Disease and I fear it may be terminal.

From the get-go, Nicholls sprays his canvas with stock references that lazily take the place of actual description. Lying in bed in student digs in 1988, the male lead falls into this terrible trope:

Feeling for an ashtray, he found a book at the side of the bed. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, spine creased at the ‘erotic’ bits. The problem with these fiercely individualistic girls was that they were all exactly the same. Another book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Silly bloody fool, he thought, confident that it was not a mistake he would ever make.

Not content with one book reference to give context, Nicholls hits us with a second book and a throwaway gag just to cement the setting. Kundera. Sacks. Yep, she’s a female student in 1988. Ugh.

Leaving aside this irritating shorthand, I couldn’t find a single character in One Day that was remotely likeable. Everyone is awful. Self-regarding, shallow, vain and small. I get that this may be a true depiction of humanity, I just think it makes for a really unappealing read.

And that’s how I feel just over 24 hours after starting One Day. It was a really unappealing read.

If you’ve read it and disagree, let me know.

Here’s a much more rewarding version of “One Day”: Matisyahu beatboxing with the PS22 Chorus. Glorious.

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7 Responses to One Day I’ll Never Get Back

  1. Kieran says:

    Great book,really loved it. But then I happened to catch a popular tv series he had written on and discovered he had lifted the ending and only real major plot twist from it almodt completely. He has also borrowed the lost letter scenario from tess,which he was adapting for the BBC at the time he wrote one day.

    Still fond of the novel but these things really took the shine off it for me. if you take out the plot twist at the end it’s a book about two people who fancy each other for years before they finally get it on. And that’s just a bit silly.

  2. Karen Kaye says:

    Thanks for dropping by and linking to your blog! I love a good review and since I agree wholeheartedly with you on Simon Pegg and Shaun Of The Dead (and Spaced and Run, Fatboy, Run), I’ll take your word for it and give One Day a miss.

    I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog!

    • guiltyfeat says:

      Thanks Karen. Now I feel responsible for putting you off the book. On the one hand I don’t think it’s any good, on the other hand I want people to read it so they can agree with me.

  3. Kerry says:

    I love hearing other takes on a book I loved. I’ll agree that the descriptions of time periods felt a bit cliche, but I thought this was intentional – Nicholls efforts seemed to be to capture a time period, and both Dexter and Emma were walking cliches with very little self-worth or self-meaning. I also hated both main characters, at times feeling sorry for one or the other – or both – but as they grew into themselves, I started to like them… interesting that the very bits that bothered you most were actually things I wound up liking.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing your link! Looking forward to seeing more of your reviews.

  4. WOW! Your take on One Day couldn’t have been more different from mine. As you have read my review I needn’t tell you that I was totally captivated by the story and the two central characters. Have you come across a site called If I wasn’t in an internet cafe thousands of miles away on a Greek island I’d supply a link but I’m struggling enough with this computer as it is without trying to do anything clever! There I found almost every reviewer had a similar view to mine, and almost all contributors gave it 4 or 5 (max) stars. As said in my piece (I don’t normally do book reviews on my site but I felt the urge on this occasion) enjoyment is subjective and I’m in no doubt that not every book you’ve been drawn in by would have the same effect on me! Thanks by the way for dropping in to my site. Keith

  5. MJB says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks for the message. I wasn’t quite so scathing, but I’d agree with much of the above. See what you think…


  6. I really hated the male character most of the way through the book. I agree with you there. But I liked that by the end, he seemed redeemed to some extent. Not redeemed enough not to backslide when there’s bad news. But redeemed.

    I liked the female character except early on. In fact, if I hadn’t been stuck in an airport with nothing else to read, the early part of the book is offputting enough that I might have put it down.

    The pop culture references didn’t consistently annoy me.

    It’s interesting that this book has taken Britain by storm. I wonder if it will do the same here.

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