ONE DAY by David Nicholls [Book 12 of 2011]

Wait a minute, is this by first book by a dude this year? I do believe it is. What’s strange though is that only other women have recommended it to me. And let’s talk about recommendations. Seemingly every other time I told someone that I was working on a book with a one day of one month for two years structure, they would ask me if I read ONE DAY by David Nicholls yet. So when I finally finished the last substantial rewrite of my second novel, I figured a read was in order. Here are my thoughts:

What It’s About: I lost track, but I believe it takes place over 20 years in the lives of Emma and Dexter, two people who connect at a university graduation party. Each chapter visits one or both of them on one day of that year.

What Makes It Different: A former actor and a screenwriter on the side, Nicholls has an innate sense of drama that lends itself to a cinematic story with fully universal truths. I didn’t have much in common with either of the main characters, but I found myself identifying with these two people more than I’ve identified with fictional characters in quite a long time. The book just resonates.

What I Loved: Everything. I liked that Nicholls really “gets” your 20s. I love that he really “gets” your 30s. I love that I didn’t always necessarily like the two main characters at the beginning, but by the end of the book I loved both characters beyond all reason, not because they were likeable, but because they were so very real. So looking forward to the movie version, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, which comes out this summer!

What I Didn’t Like: Much like Lev’s Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS, this book really takes it time. Toward the beginning that might grate a bit, but by the end, I could see the writing lesson in taking so long. You’ll find it below.

Writing Lessons Learned.

If your characters, aren’t likeable, really let us get to know them. If you have a likeable character, we don’t really have to spend a ton of time getting to know him or her. All likeable characters are pretty much likeable in the same way: they’ve got pluck and beauty. They’re smart and loyal and tend to embody all those heroic traits that we’re taught to admire as children. Unlikeable characters either have to fall into two camps: funny or relatable. In the absence of things in common, the easiest way to relate to someone is simply to understand her or him. And the easiest way to understand someone is to spend tons and tons of time with someone. Voila, your audience is relating. But if you attempt this make sure your character is truly engaging and interesting. There is nothing worse than reading a long tome with boring characters. In other words, if you’re going to attempt unlikeable protagonists, you had better have a talent for character.

Ixnay on the expositionay. A lot of important stuff happens in between the days that are detailed in each chapter. And many times as opposed to telling us what happened, Nicholl’s either has it come up in conversation or even more simply has his characters responding in some non-expositional way to what happened in-between. It’s hard to explain this device as I’m still not entirely sure how he did it, but the result was that it felt like a book without exposition. And it made me think about how to better handle exposition myself for future books.

Read the book. ONE DAY is terrifically written and terrifically engaging. Figuring out how Nicholls pulled off this feat is a writing lesson in itself. I think this might be my favorite book by a British male since Alex Garland’s THE BEACH.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Novel: Anyone Writing About Relationships, Gudrun Cram-Drach, Roya Hamadani, Reads4Pleasure, and Those Who Didn’t Go to Their 10-Year College Reunions But Are Thinking About Going to Their 2oth.

Click on the book cover to buy ONE DAY at Amazon!