The premise of the book is fairly simple. It is about Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, two university graduates, whom we meet on the night of their graduation. Emma is a down-to-earth lefty girl from northern England who is keen to change the world. Dexter on the other hand is from a posh, rich family and is only interested in girls, and later, fame. Despite their differences, on the night of their graduation they form a strong and lasting friendship, bordering on a romance.
Every July 15 the reader is given an update on what is occurring in the lives of the two main protagonists over the next twenty years. We see them grow up, grow together and grow apart. It is clear, however, that no matter what is happening in each of their lives, their love for each other draws them to each other over and over again.
Although you only see a glimpse of their lives on one day of each year, it doesn't feel as though you are missing out. Nicholls is able to weave their past year into that one day so effectively you barely notice that it's happening. The only place where I feel this wasn't done so effectively was in the last few chapters of the book, following a cataclysmic event that irrevocably changes the lives of both Emma and Dexter. In these final chapters, I wanted more than I got.
I do think that Nicholls took a risk in One Day in that both of the protagonists felt incredibly stereotypical. Emma Morley was the stereotypical middle class university educated lefty who is determined to change the world, even if she only changes the part around her. Dexter Mayhew on the other hand is the stereotypical upper class male. Apolitical and out for a good time, his greatest priorities are fame, girls and drugs.
The risk in having two such stereotypical characters is that the reader has trouble believing in their authenticity. In my experience, people rarely fall so easily into stereotypes like these.
Despite this though, Emma and Dexter both felt acutely real to me, as did their friendship. You could identify with their lives and their feelings, even as they each changed. Even if you have never felt what they have, you have seen it in other people and so it makes more real in these fictional characters.
Also, their story was endearing. No matter where their lives took them, they were there for one another. There was no one else in the world that they wanted to share things with as much as each other. They enjoyed flirting. They enjoyed the comfort they found in one another. They enjoyed each other.
What more can you want from friendship?
Yes, One Day book is chick-lit, but it also provides so much more than what you might expect from a book of this genre. The writing is witty and in it Nicholls explores the heart of friendship and what it means to really love someone.