One Day
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One Day

3.7 1736
by David Nicholls

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It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. 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

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It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. 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.

Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
However widely One Day is imitated, it will be hard to match Mr. Nicholls's easy blend of bumbling insecurities (Emma's), overweening showbiz arrogance (Dexter's, when he becomes a television star), slow but sure pacing, humorous though seldom outright funny dialogue and authentically troubling coming-of-age issues. Other, similar writers (like Mr. Hornby in his recent Juliet, Naked) mine this same vein, but they tell more pensively complicated stories. Mr. Nicholls uses his adroit professionalism for something more handily miraculous: sweetening the journey from fiery, idealistic dreaminess into unforgiving middle age.
—The New York Times
Liesl Schillinger
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.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
The Hollywood-ready latest from Nicholls (The Understudy) makes a brief pit stop in book form before its inevitable film adaptation. (It's already in development.) 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 university 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. (June)
Daily Mail
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 Mirror
[Nicholls] has both a very deft prose style and a great understanding of human emotion. His characterisation is utterly convincing . . . One Day is destined to be a modern classic.
The Guardian (London)
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.
The Times (London)
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.
The Independent (London)
You’d be hard pressed to find a sharper, sweeter romantic comedy this year than the story of Dex and Em.
We may have found the novel of the year—a brilliantly funny and moving will-they, won’t-they romance tracing a relationship on the same day each day for two decades.
As a study of what we once were and what we can become, it’s masterfully realised.
Sunday Herald
A delicious love story.
From the Publisher
"[An] instant classic. . . . One of the most hilarious and emotionally riveting love stories you’ll ever encounter." —People

“Big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable." —Nick Hornby, from his blog
"[Nicholls] has a gift for zeitgeist description and emotional empathy that's wholly his own. . . . [A] light but surprisingly deep romance so thoroughly satisfying." —Entertainment Weekly

“Nicholls offers sharp dialogue and wry insight that sounds like Nick Hornby at his best.” —The Daily Beast (A Best Book of the Summer)

"Fluid, expertly paced, highly observed, and at times, both funny and moving." —Boston Globe

"Those of us susceptible to nostalgic reveries of youthful heartache and self-invention (which is to say, all of us) longed to get our hands on Nicholls’s new novel. . . . 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." —New York Times Book Review

"Who doesn’t relish a love story with the right amount of heart-melting romance, disappointment, regret, and huge doses of disenchantment about growing up and growing old between quarreling meant-to-be lovers?" —Elle, Top 10 Summer Books for 2010

“A great, funny, and heart-breaking read.” —The Early Show [CBS]

"Funny, sweet and completely engrossing . . . The friendship at the heart of this novel is best expressed within the pitch-perfect dialogue/banter between the two." —Very Short List

“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.” —The Times (London)
“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.” —The Guardian (London)

Library Journal
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. [Reading group guide.]—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.02(w) x 7.92(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Friday 15TH July 1988
Rankeillor Street, Edinburgh

'I suppose the important thing is to make some sort of difference,' she said. 'You know, actually change something.'

'What, like "change the world", you mean?'

'Not the whole entire world. Just the little bit around you.'

They lay in silence for a moment, bodies curled around each other in the single bed, then both began to laugh in low, pre-dawn voices. 'Can't believe I just said that,' she groaned. 'Sounds a bit corny, doesn't it?'

'A bit corny.'

'I'm trying to be inspiring! I'm trying to lift your grubby soul for the great adventure that lies ahead of you.' She turned to face him. 'Not that you need it. I expect you've got your future nicely mapped out, ta very much. Probably got a little flow-chart somewhere or something.'


'So what're you going to do then? What's the great plan?'

'Well, my parents are going to pick up my stuff, dump it at theirs, then I'll spend a couple of days in their flat in London, see some friends. Then France-'

'Very nice-'

'Then China maybe, see what that's all about, then maybe onto India, travel around there for a bit-'

'Traveling,' she sighed. 'So predictable.'

'What's wrong with travelling?'

'Avoiding reality more like.'

'I think reality is over-rated,' he said in the hope that this might come across as dark and charismatic.

She sniffed. 'S'alright, I suppose, for those who can afford it. Why not just say "I'm going on holiday for two years"? It's the same thing.'

'Because travel broadens the mind,' he said, rising onto one elbow and kissing her.

'Oh I think you're probably a bit too broad-minded as it is,' she said, turning her face away, for the moment at least. They settled again on the pillow. 'Anyway, I didn't mean what are you doing next month, I meant the future-future, when you're, I don't know...' She paused, as if conjuring up some fantastical idea, like a fifth dimension. '...Forty or something. What do you want to be when you're forty?'

'Forty?' He too seemed to be struggling with the concept. 'Don't know. Am I allowed to say "rich"?'

'Just so, so shallow.'

'Alright then, "famous".' He began to nuzzle at her neck. 'Bit morbid, this, isn't it?'

'It's not morbid, it's...exciting.'
' 'Exciting!' ' He was imitating her voice now, her soft Yorkshire accent, trying to make her sound daft. She got this a lot, posh boys doing funny voices, as if there was something unusual and quaint about an accent, and not for the first time she felt a reassuring shiver of dislike for him. She shrugged herself away until her back was pressed against the cool of the wall.
'Yes, exciting. We're meant to be excited, aren't we? All those possibilities. It's like the Vice-Chancellor said, "the doors of opportunity flung wide..."'
'"Yours are the names in tomorrow's newspapers..."'
'Not very likely.'
'So, what, are you excited then?'
'Me? God no, I'm crapping myself.'
'Me too. Christ...' He turned suddenly and reached for the cigarettes on the floor by the side of the bed, as if to steady his nerves. 'Forty years old. Forty. Fucking hell.'
Smiling at his anxiety, she decided to make it worse. 'So what'll you be doing when you're forty?'
He lit his cigarette thoughtfully. 'Well the thing is, Em-'
'"Em"? Who's "Em"?'
'People call you Em. I've heard them.'
'Yeah, friends call me Em.'

'So can I call you Em?'

'Go on then, Dex.'

'So I've given this whole "growing old" thing some thought and I've come to the decision that I'd like to stay exactly as I am right now.'

Dexter Mayhew. She peered up at him through her fringe as he leant against the cheap buttoned vinyl headboard and even without her spectacles on it was clear why he might want to stay exactly this way. Eyes closed, the cigarette glued languidly to his lower lip, the dawn light warming the side of his face through the red filter of the curtains, he had the knack of looking perpetually posed for a photograph. Emma Morley thought 'handsome' a silly, nineteenth-century word, but there really was no other word for it, except perhaps 'beautiful'. He had one of those faces where you were aware of the bones beneath the skin, as if even his bare skull would be attractive. A fine nose, slightly shiny with grease, and dark skin beneath the eyes that looked almost bruised, a badge of honour from all the smoking and late nights spent deliberately losing at strip poker with girls from Bedales. There was something feline about him: eyebrows fine, mouth pouty in a self-conscious way, lips a shade too dark and full, but dry and chapped now, and rouged with Bulgarian red wine. Gratifyingly his hair was terrible, short at the back and sides, but with an awful little quiff at the front. Whatever gel he used had worn off, and now the quiff looked pert and fluffy, like a silly little hat.

Still with his eyes closed, he exhaled smoke through his nose. Clearly he knew he was being looked at because he tucked one hand beneath his armpit, bunching up his pectorals and biceps. Where did the muscles come from? Certainly not sporting activity, unless you counted skinny- dipping and playing pool. Probably it was just the kind of good health that was passed down in the family, along with the stocks and shares and the good furniture. Handsome then, or beautiful even, with his paisley boxer shorts pulled down to his hip bones and somehow here in her single bed in her tiny rented room at the end of four years of college. 'Handsome'! Who do you think you are, Jane Eyre? Grow up. Be sensible. Don't get carried away.

She plucked the cigarette from his mouth. 'I can imagine you at forty,' she said, a hint of malice in her voice. 'I can picture it right now.'

He smiled without opening his eyes. 'Go on then.'

'Alright-' She shuffled up the bed, the duvet tucked beneath her armpits. 'You're in this sports car with the roof down in Kensington or Chelsea or one of those places and the amazing thing about this car is it's silent, 'cause all the cars'll be silent in, I don't know, what - 2006?'

He scrunched his eyes to do the sum. '2004-'

'And this car is hovering six inches off the ground down the King's Road and you've got this little paunch tucked under the leather steering wheel like a little pillow and those backless gloves on, thinning hair and no chin. You're a big man in a small car with a tan like a basted turkey-'

'So shall we change the subject then?'

'And there's this woman next to you in sunglasses, your third, no, fourth wife, very beautiful, a model, no, an ex-model, twenty-three, you met her while she was draped on the bonnet of a car at a motor- show in Nice or something, and she's stunning and thick as shit-'

'Well that's nice. Any kids?'

'No kids, just three divorces, and it's a Friday in July and you're heading off to some house in the country and in the tiny boot of your hover car are tennis racquets and croquet mallets and a hamper full of fine wines and South African grapes and poor little quails and asparagus and the wind's in your widow's peak and you're feeling very, very pleased with yourself and wife number three, four, whatever, smiles at you with about two hundred shiny white teeth and you smile back and try not to think about the fact that you have nothing, absolutely nothing, to say to each other.'
She came to an abrupt halt. You sound insane, she told herself. Do try not to sound insane. 'Course if it's any consolation we'll all be dead in a nuclear war long before then!' she said brightly, but still he was frowning at her.

'Maybe I should go then. If I'm so shallow and corrupt-'

'No, don't go,' she said, a little too quickly. 'It's four in the morning.'

He shuffled up the bed until his face was a few inches from hers. 'I don't know where you get this idea of me, you barely know me.'

'I know the type.'

'The type?'

'I've seen you, hanging round Modern Languages, braying at each other, throwing black-tie dinner parties-'

'I don't even own black-tie. And I certainly don't bray-'

'Yachting your way round the Med in the long hols, ra ra ra-'

'So if I'm so awful-' His hand was on her hip now.

'-which you are.'

'-then why are you sleeping with me?' His hand was on the warm soft flesh of her thigh.

'Actually I don't think I have slept with you, have I?'

'Well that depends.' He leant in and kissed her. 'Define your terms.' His hand was on the base of her spine, his leg slipping between hers.

'By the way,' she mumbled, her mouth pressed against his.

'What?' He felt her leg snake around his, pulling him closer.

'You need to brush your teeth.'

'I don't mind if you don't.'

'S'really horrible,' she laughed. 'You taste of wine and fags.'

'Well that's alright then. So do you.'

Her head snapped away, breaking off the kiss. 'Do I?'

'I don't mind. I like wine and fags.'

'Won't be a sec.' She flung the duvet back, clambering over him.

'Where are you going now?' He placed his hand on her bare back.

'Just the bog,' she said, retrieving her spectacles from the pile of books by the bed: large, black NHS frames, standard issue.

'The "bog", the "bog"...sorry I'm not familiar...'

She stood, one arm across her chest, careful to keep her back to him. 'Don't go away,' she said, padding out of the room, hooking two fingers into the elastic of her underpants to pull the material down at the top of her thighs. 'And no playing with yourself while I'm gone.'

He exhaled through his nose and shuffled up the bed, taking in the shabby rented room, knowing with absolute confidence that somewhere in amongst the art postcards and photocopied posters for angry plays there would be a photograph of Nelson Mandela, like some dreamy ideal boyfriend. In his last four years he had seen any number of bedrooms like this, dotted round the city like crime scenes, rooms where you were never more than six feet from a Nina Simone album, and though he'd rarely seen the same bedroom twice, it was all too familiar. The burnt out nightlights and desolate pot plants, the smell of washing powder on cheap, ill-fitting sheets. She had that arty girl's passion for photomontage too; flash-lit snaps of college friends and family jumbled in amongst the Chagalls and Vermeers and Kandinskys, the Che Guevaras and Woody Allens and Samuel Becketts. Nothing here was neutral, everything displayed an allegiance or a point of view. The room was a manifesto, and with a sigh Dexter recognised her as one of those girls who used 'bourgeois' as a term of abuse. He could understand why 'fascist' might have negative connotations, but he liked the word 'bourgeois' and all that it implied. Security, travel, nice food, good manners, ambition; what was he meant to be apologising for?

He watched the smoke curl from his mouth. 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.

At twenty-three, Dexter Mayhew's vision of his future was no clearer than Emma Morley's. He hoped to be successful, to make his parents proud and to sleep with more than one woman at the same time, but how to make these all compatible? He wanted to feature in magazine articles, and hoped one day for a retrospective of his work, without having any clear notion of what that work might be. He wanted to live life to the extreme, but without any mess or complications. He wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph. Things should look right. Fun; there should be a lot of fun and no more sadness than absolutely necessary.

It wasn't much of a plan, and already there had been mistakes. Tonight, for instance, was bound to have repercussions: tears and awkward phone-calls and accusations. He should probably get out of here as soon as possible, and he glanced at his discarded clothes in preparation for his escape. From the bathroom came the warning rattle and bang of an ancient toilet cistern, and he hurriedly replaced the book, finding beneath the bed a small yellow Colman's mustard tin that he flipped open to confirm that, yes, it did contain condoms, along with the small grey remains of a joint, like a mouse dropping. With the possibility of sex and drugs in a small yellow tin he felt hopeful again, and decided that he might stay a little longer at least.

In the bathroom, Emma Morley wiped the crescents of toothpaste from the corner of her mouth and wondered if this was all a terrible mistake. Here she was, after four romantically barren years, finally, finally in bed with someone she really liked, had liked since she'd first seen him at a party in 1984, and in just a few hours he'd be gone. Forever probably. He was hardly likely to ask her to go to China with him, and besides she was boycotting China. And he was alright, wasn't he? Dexter Mayhew. In truth she suspected he wasn't all that bright, and a little too pleased with himself, but he was popular and funny and - no point fighting it - very handsome. So why was she being so stroppy and sarcastic? Why couldn't she just be self-confident and fun, like those scrubbed, bouncy girls he usually hung around with? She saw the dawn light at the tiny bathroom window. Sobriety. Scratching at her awful hair with her fingertips, she pulled a face, then yanked the chain of the ancient toilet cistern and headed back into the room.

From the bed, Dexter watched her appear in the doorway, wearing the gown and mortar board that they'd been obliged to hire for the graduation ceremony, her leg hooked mock-seductively around the doorframe, her rolled degree certificate in one hand. She peered over her spectacles and pulled the mortar board down low over one eye. 'What d'you think?'

'Suits you. I like the jaunty angle. Now take it off and come back to bed.'

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What People are saying about this

Adele Parks
“The ultimate zeitgeist love story for anyone who ever wanted someone they couldn’t have”
Kate Moss
“I really loved it . . . it’s absolutely wonderful . . . just so moving and engaging.”
Tony Parsons
“A totally brilliant book about the heartbreaking gap between the way we were and the way we are . . . the best weird love story since The Time Traveler’s Wife. Every reader will fall in love with it. And every writer will wish they had written it.”
Nick Hornby
“Big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable . . . brilliant on the details of the last couple of decades of British cultural and political life . . . the perfect beach read for people who are normally repelled by the very idea of beach reads.”--(Nick Hornby, from his blog)
Jenny Colgan
“The funniest, loveliest book I’ve read in ages. Most of all it is horribly, cringingly, absolutely 100% honest and true to life: I lived every page.”

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