Although not critically acclaimed, One Day by David Nicholls was a bestseller after its publication in 2009. Despite being adapted into a not-so-successful film, starring Anne Hathaway with a dubious northern accent, it still remains one of my favourite books.
It opens with the two main characters at university, but it doesn’t chart their student lives. Instead, Emma and Dexter meet on 15 July 1988, the night of their graduation from the University of Edinburgh, when the satisfying realisation of having no more deadlines is mixed with pondering the future, and wanting to ‘actually change something’. The novel returns to them every 15 July, for twenty years, following their various career trajectories and relationships.
Reading this in my first year, I’ve since realised that the beauty of the book is that it starts at the point where an incredible journey in the characters’ lives has ended – but the twenty years that follow are just as incredible, life-changing, turbulent, fun, and meaningful. Now in my final year, I’m picking up this novel again because it reassures you that university is not the end.
It starts at the point where an incredible journey in the characters’ lives has ended
So much will resonate with students entering the ‘real world’, making it a perfect finalist’s read. Emma and Dexter experience the post-graduation limbo and uncertainty. For Emma, continuing to live in Edinburgh “felt like staying on at a party that everyone else had left”. She moves to London and is disheartened when she can’t take it by storm. She joins a band, a theatre company, works as a waitress, then as a teacher, before finally becoming a writer.
Meanwhile Dexter, with his “lowish 2.2 in anthropology”, begins by teaching abroad, frustrating his parents who want him to “settle down to something”. He later finds low-level fame, but this soon fizzles out. Over the years, they’re brought together on various occasions, like holidays and the weddings of their university friends.
Aside from the obvious love-story, each year charts the changing times, pop-culture trends and their navigation of adult life. Dexter indulges in the 90s rave and drugs scene, while Emma’s graduate life still has a relevance now. She struggles to find work with “a recession on”, and can’t continue in education since student grants are scrapped. Comical moments also recall contemporary politics, with Dexter saying Emma always “banged on about the poll tax riots”. A political consciousness, which will be familiar to many students, stays with Emma after university. She questions the state of student politics and the ‘tradition’ of student protest, during a tense argument about the Iraq war: “Even the students aren’t protesting!”
So much will resonate with students entering the ‘real world’
If the end of your time at university is looming, this novel comforts you with the knowledge that life will throw up endless and unexpected opportunities, and you don’t know where it will take you. Most of all, it will excite you about the future and show you that university is just one chapter in your life’s adventures.