One Day is the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew – two friends in England who have a short romantic interlude right before graduation in 1988. Each chapter of One Daychecks in with Emma and Dexter on July 15th over 20 subsequent years. (The final chapter is July 15, 2008). The book tracks Emma and Dexter's relationship over that period, and in so doing tells the story of their lives from age 21 to 41. Sometimes Emma and Dexter are in close contact, and sometimes they aren't speaking. But they always have a presence in each other's lives.
Nicholls does a fine job of conveying the life stages "Em and Dex" go through together – the moorless early twenties, the seedlings of professional identity, the breakups of serious but flawed relationships, and the years when everyone else seems to be getting a life (except you). Em and Dex don't always experience these stages at the same time, but Nicholls tracks them through pitch perfect interactions (both with each other and with others) and sharp, witty descriptions of their lives.
I really enjoyed One Day. I cared about what happened to these two people, and I found them believable and sympathetic. I also liked Nicholls' writing. Here's a passage I liked:
It would be inappropriate, undignified, at thirty-eight, to conduct friendships or love affairs with the ardour and intensity of a twenty-two-year-old. Falling in love like that? Writing poetry, crying at pop songs? Dragging people into photo-booths, taking a whole day to make a compilation tape, asking people if they wanted to share your bed, just for company… Ridiculous, at thirty-eight, to expect a song or book or film to change your life. No, everything had evened out and settled down and life was lived against a general background hum of comfort, satisfaction and familiarity. There would be no more of those nerve-jangling highs and lows. The friends they had now would be the friends they had in five, ten, twenty years' time. They expected to get neither dramatically richer nor poorer; they expected to stay healthy for a little while yet.
There's a lot to like about One Day. The ending is sad (warning!), but it's not unrealistic. I also liked that the book tracks cultural trends over the last 20 years – cell phones, email, recessions, even fashion.
BTW, the movie version of this book is supposedly already in production, so read it now!