One Day – A Study In People

The other night I had a dream that Jack Whitehall was playing Dexter in a film of One Day. He was playing it as he does JP in Fresh Meat and I found it truly upsetting. I originally read One Day as the film was about to come out so that I’d read the book before the film and ended up not seeing the film because I wasn’t convinced by the casting. I still ponder on a regular basis who should play Dexter and Emma and was inspired to reread the book and ponder afresh after this alarming dream.

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I didn’t mean to fully reread the book. I meant to dip in and out as part of a casual Friday evening and ended up staying awake until 2am and reading it cover to cover. Some books lose the sparkle after the suspense is gone, and you never know which are which until you return to them. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed One Day a second time around. I’m not really sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect to be quite so enthralled.

It’s quite a typical story I suppose, boy meets girl. It doesn’t need to be but it’s a format that’s become quite tired over the last decade. I think part of the problem is that it is obvious to anyone with a pulse that the boy and girl are formulaic caricatures that are meant to be together, yet due to a series of zany events and misunderstandings it doesn’t happen until the very end. One of the reasons One Day works so well as that it is a study of people. Dexter and Emma are so totally believable that really it becomes incidental whether they live happily ever after or not. They are real characters and their relationship is very real. This also means that the one day scenario, where the characters are revisited on the same day ever year for twenty years, never gets tired or feels like a device.

A basic premise – Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation. She is an idealistic Yorkshire girl determined to change the world, he is a posh good-looking lad out for a good time. On their first meeting it’s clear that Emma is very keen on Dexter, less clear how he feels about her. It seems like a classic one night stand, yet same day next year Emma is writing to Dexter and he is thinking of her, and onwards it rumbles. It is fascinating to watch the two of them develop over the years, to watch the sum of their experiences bundle up in to the people they become. Dexter is particularly interesting. Emma follows a conventional path of idealism accompanied by a rubbish job, to success in a second choice field, but Dexter has always led a charmed life and sees no reason why that should change. There are many moments with Dexter where you see the person he could be, that he should be, yet his flimsier self, the self lurching after fun and excitement, wins. The most heart-wrenching is when he writes an impassioned letter to Emma from Bombay telling her how he really feels about her and asking her to come visit, only to get so distracted by drinks with some Dutch girls and lose the letter. It’s a real road not travelled, yet as one gets to know the characters more, particularly during the mid to late twenties, one gets the sense that Emma can do better. Dexter hits an unfortunate intersection between family tragedy and drug fuelled partying, which leads to some horrendous decisions and the best line in the book: ‘He has changed his shirt twice, showered in cold water, but still the perspiration comes bubbling up on his back and forehead, oily and viscous like water which perhaps is what it is.’ Turn the page and you are treated to an alarming description of what it’s like to drive whilst absolutely twatted. By contrast, at this stage Emma has a stable satisfactory life and is becoming contented with the person she is. They do not fit, yet the connection and relationship is there and utterly utterly convincing.

I shan’t say anymore but because I really don’t want to spoil the book for those of you that haven’t read it. Next time, Gone Girl. I’m currently trying to figure out how to write about it without giving even one single detail away. An interesting challenge!

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