You Had To Be There (ONE DAY)


Some of the things we hold most dear to us can be the most difficult to quantify in value.  Our book club meetings are about valuating a particular book…meeting monthly, we give our (humble and varied!) opinion on a book, thereby giving it some measure of value.  At the end of the month 32 of us will meet, over a glass of wine and a 2 course supper at our favourite Cafe to discuss ONE DAY by David Nicholls.  From a literary point of view, I’m not sure how valuable it is…. but did I enjoy it and did I value that enjoyment?  You bet!

The story starts in 1988, with two university graduates becoming romantically tangled for a very brief moment – between the end of their academic career and the start of the rest of their lives.  So far so good and so far I’m drawn in as this was the same decade that I did similar romantic tangling.   Dex and Emma, Emma and Dex.  The two names weave through the storyline for a 20 year period.  By replacing your own name and that of any other name your memory throws up, you feel yourself being pulling in further.

Emma leaves University with an activist student mentality and determined dreams of wanting to ‘make a difference’ while Dexter just wants to make love, fun and money –  in no particular order.  Emma is earnest, outspoken and idealistic.  Dex meanwhile “likes the word bourgeois and all that it implied”.  He can’t wait to make hedonistic choices in both his personal and professional life.

For 20 years their inarguable chemistry is set against their different life styles as well as personal pride…thus  keeping our happy couple apart romantically.   Once again…replace your own life story with one of the characters.  Dex or Em, Em or Dex?    Once again I was drawn in.  The cultural references were spot on

Student life in a female bedroom is described by Dex as “he knows 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.” 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.”

Later on, student life is replaced by Dexter discovering coke and cash through a career in Television.  The late-night show he presents is a sharp reminder of the less than sharp evenings I spent viewing them in the 90’s…’The Word’ being the most memorable.

The story continues but there is little point in me revealing anything here as the story isn’t particularly complex.  However, for anybody of my age group (1988-2007 being the key period) this won’t matter.  References to Kula Shaker and The Cardigans more than make up for any weaknesses and the familiarity in the characters, him and her, will stay with me for as long as any highly ‘valued’ book.  So, did you have to be there to feel the same way?  It’s impossible for me to answer.  Did I enjoy the book because I experienced the era or would I have enjoyed the witty dialogue, convincing characters and natural emotion anyway?  I look forward to meeting with the rest of our mixed age book group to discuss that further.

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