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One Day (Nicholls)

One Day 
David Nicholls, 2009
Knopf Doubleday
448 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307474711


Summary 
It's 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. They both know that the next day, after college graduation, they must go their separate ways. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. As the years go by, Dex and Em begin to lead separate lives—lives very different from the people they once dreamed they'd become. And yet, unable to let go of that special something that grabbed onto them that first night, an extraordinary relationship develops between the two.

Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—November 30, 1966
Where—Hampshire, England, UK
Education—B.A., Bristol University; American Musical and Dramatic Academy
Currently—lives in London, England


David Nicholls is an English novelist and screenwriter. His novels include Starter for Ten (2003), The Understudy (2005), One Day (2009), and Us (2014).

Early years
He attended Barton Peveril sixth-form college at Eastleigh, Hampshire, from 1983 to 1985 (taking A-levels in drama and theatre studies—like his elder and younger siblings—English, physics and biology), and playing a wide range of roles in college drama productions.

He then attended Bristol University in the 1980s (graduating with a BA in Drama and English in 1988) before training as an actor at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Throughout his twenties, he worked as a professional actor, using the stage name David Holdaway. He played small roles at various theatres, including the West Yorkshire Playhouse and, for a three year period, at the Royal National Theatre.

Screenwriter
As a screenwriter, he co-wrote the adapted screenplay of Simpatico and contributed four scripts to the third series of Cold Feet (both 2000). For the latter, he was nominated for a British Academy Television Craft Award for Best New Writer (Fiction). He created the Granada Television pilot and miniseries I Saw You (2000, 2002) and the Tiger Aspect six-part series Rescue Me (2002). Rescue Me lasted for only one series before being cancelled. Nicholls had written four episodes for the second series before being told of the cancellation. His anger over this led to him taking a break from screenwriting to concentrate on writing his first novel, Starter for Ten. When he returned to screenwriting, he adapted Much Ado About Nothing into a one-hour segment of the BBC's 2005 ShakespeaRe-Told season.

In 2006, his film adaptation Starter for 10 was released in cinemas. The following year, he wrote And When Did You Last See Your Father?, an adaptation of the memoir by Blake Morrison. He penned an adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles for the BBC, which aired in 2008, and an adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd for BBC Films. He has also adapted Great Expectations; the screenplay has been listed on the 2009 Brit List, an annual industry poll of the best unmade scripts outside of the United States.

In 2005 he wrote Aftersun for the Old Vic's 24-Hour Play festival and later developed it into a one-off comedy for BBC One, broadcast in 2006. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
A wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate and often unbearably sad ... the best British social novel since Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! ... Nicholls’s witty prose has a transparency that brings Nick Hornby to mind: it melts as you read it so that you don’t notice all the hard work that it’s doing.
London Times


With a nod to When Harry Met Sally, this funny, emotionally engaging third novel from David Nicholls traces the unlikely relationship between Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew.... Told with toe-curlingly accurate insight and touching observation.... If you left college sometime in the eighties with no clear idea of what was going to happen next, or who your lifelong friends might turn out to be, this one’s a definite for your holiday suitcase. If you didn’t, it still is.... The feel good film must surely be just around the corner. I can’t wait.
Daily Mail (UK)


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.
Guardian (UK)


Nicholls captures superbly the ennui of post graduation.... The writing is almost faultless, there’s a great feeling for the period and it’s eminently readable.
London Herald


Will Dex and Emma get together before it's too late? Will they ever act on the lone un-self-conscious thought Emma has been able to hold in her head since the day she walked away from Dexter, when she was 22 and he was 23, as his parents drove him home from college into his still unblemished future? "Love and be loved," she had told herself, "if you ever get the chance." It's something you may want to find out this summer at poolside. And if you do, you may want to take care where you lay this book down. You may not be the only one who wants in on the answers.
Lisa Schillinger - New York Times


The Hollywood-ready latest from Nicholls (The Understudy) makes a brief pit stop in book form before its inevitable film adaptation (in 2011). The episodic story takes place during a single day each year for two decades in the lives of Dex and Em. Dexter, the louche public school boy, and Emma, the brainy Yorkshire lass, meet the day they graduate from college in 1988 and run circles around one another for the next 20 years. Dex becomes a TV presenter whose life of sex, booze, and drugs spins out of control, while Em dully slogs her way through awful jobs before becoming the author of young adult books. They each take other lovers and spouses, but they cannot really live without each other. Nicholls is a glib, clever writer, and while the formulaic feel and maudlin ending aren't ideal for a book, they'll play in the multiplex.
Publishers Weekly


Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew get together (almost) following their graduation in 1988. We catch up with them annually on July 15, St. Swithin's Day, the British equivalent of Groundhog Day but with rain. Here, it's a prognosticator of how their lives are turning out. She's been in love with Dex for years, while he's been in bed with more women than we can count. He gets a job in "media" as a late-night TV presenter on music/rock star interview shows. She works at a crappy Mexican restaurant before altering course and becoming a teacher. Do they eventually find their way back to each other? Nicholls (The Understudy) doesn't take the easy route, throwing lots of relationships and obstacles in our protagonists' paths. Verdict: This tale of youthful dreams coming true and perhaps not being so dreamy is written with great verve and charm, reminiscent of the works of Mike Gayle. A coming-of-age story for all of us who might still be wondering what we want to be when we grow up. —Bette-Lee Fox
Library Journal



Discussion Questions 
1. To what extent do Emma’s thoughts and assumptions about Dexter [pp. 5-6] and Dexter’s sketch of Emma  [pp. 8-9] rely on facile stereotypes they each harbor?  In what ways do they embody more measured reflections? How accurate are their assessments? Does their initial encounter make the reader more sympathetic to one of the characters? In what ways might the reader’s gender, experiences, and prejudices affect their feelings about Emma and Dexter?

2. What determines the path Emma follows in her post-university years? In addition to being a wonderfully comic interlude, how does her stint with Sledgehammer Theater Cooperative enrich the portrait of the time in which the novel is set? Is Emma’s explanation of why she ended up working at the tacky Mexican restaurant—“there was a recession on and people were clinging to their jobs.... the government had ended student grants” [p. 56]—honest? Have circumstances and “the city defeated her” or is she responsible for her own plight?

3. In his unsent letter Dexter writes, “I think you’re scared of being happy.... that you actually get a kick out of being disappointed and under-achieving, because it’s easier....”[p. 42]. How do Dexter’s insights into Emma compare to her own? Is he more perceptive about her than he is about himself? Does Emma underestimate her talents and potential? Despite its carefree tone, does Dexter’s letter betray certain doubts or misgivings about himself?

4. Does Dexter’s meteoric rise in television change the fundamental dynamics between Dexter and Emma? What aspects of their relationship remain unchanged? What influences the things they say and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t say, during their afternoon on Primrose Hill [p. 60-72]? Were you surprised to find them vacationing together in Greece the following year? Who is more aware of—and affected by—the sexual tensions and temptations they both experience?

5. Is Dexter’s idle vision of his future [p. 9] realized during “the late twenties” (chapters six through nine)?  In what ways is the actuality of his life an ironic comment on his expectations? Does he act in ways that undermine his happiness?  Discuss, for example, his visit to his parents [pp. 120-135]; his humiliating debut on Late-Night Lock-In [pp. 176-7]; his hostile, crude manner at dinner with Emma [pp. 205-210]; and his glib excuses and rationalizations for his actions [p.190]. What glimpses are there of his more vulnerable side? Do they make him a more appealing character?

6. “At twenty-seven, Emma wonders if she is getting old” [p. 115]. Do Emma’s feelings about both the satisfactions and regrets that come with being “grown-up” ring true? What explains Emma’s relationship with Ian? Is she willingly deceiving herself (and Ian)? Despite her impatience with him and his desperately unfunny comedy routines, does she have genuine feelings for Ian?

7. At the disastrous dinner on July 15, 1995, Emma declares, “Dexter, I love you so much... and I probably always will. I just don’t like you any more. I’m sorry” [p. 210]. Does Dexter recognize why his behavior leads to this break? Does he care? Could the dinner have ended differently?

8. Compare Dexter’s reaction to his agent’s report on how he is perceived [pp. 240, 243] and Emma’s reaction to her unsuccessful interview with a publishing executive [p. 245]. What do they reveal how each of them approaches life’s ups-and-downs?

9. “Now that she was actually involved in an affair—its paraphernalia of secret looks, hands held under tables, fondles in the stationery cupboard—she was surprised at how familiar it all was, and what a potent emotion lust could be, when combined with guilt and self-loathing” [p. 221]. What does the affair with Mr. Godalming reflect about Emma’s state of mind as she approaches her mid-thirties? What satisfaction does it give her? To what extent is she influenced by the romantic notions and expectations society imposes on unmarried women?

10. When he meets Sylvie Cope, Dexter thinks, “And yet, despite all this, the downturn in professional fortunes, he is fine now, because he has fallen in love with Sylvie, beautiful Sylvie....” [p. 251]. In what ways does the affair open Dexter’s eyes to new possibilities and a different way of life? What flaws in their relationship does he fail to grasp fully and why?  What consequences does this have on the course of their marriage?

11. What is the significance of the wedding Dexter and Emma attend [p. 269-296]? What do they learn about themselves and each other that surprises, pleases, or unsettles them? What do their conversations [pp. 286, 290, 293, for example] represent in terms of their personal development as well as the evolution of their friendship?

12. What does the rendezvous in Paris share with Emma and Dexter’s trip to Greece nine years earlier? What impact does Emma’s success as an author and Dexter’s failed marriage have on the “balance of power” between them? Discuss the factors—including age, their individual circumstances, and the length of their friendship—that contribute to their willingness to be more honest and open with each other.

13. Do Emma’s musings about where life has taken her [p. 381] resonate with you? What do Emma and Dexter at forty have in common with the people they were on graduation night? How does Nicholls simultaneously capture the ways people change and the persistence of individual characteristics through the passage of time?

14. What demands does the unusual structure of One Day make on the reader? Discuss how the yearlong gaps between chapters; the focus on sometimes-mundane happenings rather than “big” events; and the alternation between Dexter’s and Emma’s journeys within each section increase your curiosity and engagement with the novel.

15. Callum is casually mentioned as mutual friend in Chapter 2 [p. 21] and chapter 6 [p. 109] and Ian makes his first appearance simply as Emma’s co-worker in Chapter 3 [p. 37]; both will become significant figures.  What other secondary characters become more important than the protagonists—and the reader—anticipate? What do these “surprises” reflect about the way lives unfold?

16. What does One Day share with traditional boy-meets-girl stories you are familiar with from books or movies? What does it suggest about the relationship between love and happiness?

17. How well does the novel capture society and culture over the twenty-year period? What specific details (references to books, television programs, political events, etc.) help bring the different periods to life? In what ways do the characters embody the qualities, good and bad, of their generation?

18. Throughout the novel, Dexter and Emma withhold or suppress their feeling for one another. Is one of them more guilty of this and, if so, why? What role does fate (e.g. Dexter’s unsent letter, missed phone calls, etc.), along with the characters’ assumptions and misinterpretations, play in the plot? The final section of the novel is introduced with a quote from Tess of the D’Ubervilles and in the acknowledgments [p. 437] Nicholls says, “A debt is owed to Thomas Hardy.” If you are familiar with Tess or Hardy’s other novels, discuss how his works might have influenced Nicholls in writing One Day.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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