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One Day by David Nichols

Book to movie adaptations. Let’s face it, most of the time they’re pretty terrible. And how could they not be? A movie adaptation has to strike a pretty fine balance between telling the story of the book (since, ostensibly, that’s the reason the movie is even being made) and telling a new story, one that’s more cinematic, less internal, and probably shorter. The adaptation also carries the burden of having to physically manifest the reader’s idea of how the characters look and sound into a real life person, which is more than a little difficult. That said, sometimes filmmakers really get it right—Atonement, for example, is an amazing adaptation, and that had to be an incredibly difficult book to adapt, considering that there’s almost no action and the drama is mostly internal.

I have no idea how the One Day movie is going to go, to be honest. I’m at the distinct disadvantage of having seen the trailer before I read the book, guaranteeing that I would see Anne Hathaway as bookish, solitary Emma (and hear her irritatingly bad British accent every time Emma had a line of dialogue) and Jim Sturgess as charming, philandering Dexter. I guess this is okay. It’s not ideal, at least when it comes to Emma, but my real doubts come from the conceit of the book. One Day tells the story of two college friends once a year over the course of about two decades—on July 15th, St. Swithin’s Day (did you know there was a St. Swithin, let alone a St. Swithin’s Day?), the anniversary of their first romantic encounter.

So, basically, you miss a ton of stuff that happens in their lives. Sometimes there are flashbacks that fill in the gaps and other such devices, but mostly you just have to make intuitive leaps about what’s happened to them during the intervening 364 days since you last saw them. Usually this was all right, but sometimes it was very, very annoying. And if it’s annoying in the book, it’s going to be 10 times more annoying on screen, where it could very well kill the continuity of the narrative. Imagine a movie told entirely in jarring flash forwards—that’s basically what this will be like.

But was the book good? Well, it was and it wasn’t. I’ve never read any David Nichols before, but he wrote the novel Starter for 10, which was made into a very funny movie starring James McAvoy and Dominic Cooper and Rebecca Hall, so I’m inclined to think he’s great. However. I had some very mixed feelings about One Day.

There are competing theories about this novel. Lots of people think it’s a step above chick lit in its portrayal of Dexter and Emma’s “romance” (which is, in the end, not incredibly romantic), while some people consider it highly literary. It falls somewhere in the middle for me. I thought the writing was very good, which isn’t to say that writing in chick lit can’t be very good, because it can. And the book is insanely commercial and sold very well. Both the main characters and their supporting cast are intricate and well-rounded, if not always likeable (or sympathetic!), but that premise! It’s so contrived, and by the end I really started to resent it. The book is overly long and poorly paced, which is inevitable, since we check in with Dex and Emma every single year and they’re not always doing something interesting, or even speaking to each other.

There’s also something fundamentally wrong with their relationship. By the time they actually (spoiler) do get together, it feels tired and forced and unnatural, and desperate on Emma’s part. She’s spent the last two decades in love with Dex, who feels a lot of affection for her but treats her terribly and is never shown to actually want to be with her before he shows up at her flat in Paris after a bitter divorce and tells her he’s finally ready to get together. In fact, he’s pretty dismissive of her as a romantic partner, and when he reflects (during one of the few years they’re actually in a relationship) that he now has a partner who he loves and makes him happy, I kind of didn’t believe him. I kept thinking how badly I wanted, after reading this book for 300 pgs, to feel their happiness, but I never did, which was a let down.

And then there’s the end. The controversial end. I didn’t have the strong reaction to it that a lot of people have, probably because I knew it was coming, but I’m not going to lie: it is completely manipulative and cliché and extremely bothersome. Being the pop culture aficionado that all Blogulator readers are, you’ve probably already figured out what happens. It feels cheap after such a long slog.

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to see the movie. Since I could pretty much pick out each scene from the trailer, it’s probably going to be a faithful adaptation, which could be good or bad. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. I haven’t decided yet if I would recommend this book, either. I did enjoy the experience of reading it; it’s funny and interesting and sweet in parts. The characters feel real, and though that often times means that you don’t agree with them or their choices and if they were real flesh and blood humans you would probably want to punch them in the face, it also means that their experiences are often painfully real and relatable, which is the whole point of fiction.

I suppose I would say that you shouldn’t read this book if you want a nice feel-good romance. It’s no Anna and the French Kiss, that’s for sure. But it has other redeeming qualities, and is largely deserving of its success, if only because it sets an ambitious goal for itself (figuring out every single detail of someone’s life over several decades is not child’s play) and achieves that goal in a mostly enjoyable way.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 7:04 AM |  

    Brigitte & I saw this movie yesterday afternoon (it was the only thing that was at the theaters that was somewhat agreeable to both us and my parents.) It's interesting that in the book, Dexter is likable, because in the movie he basically comes off as a gigantic douche, until he starts crying about stuff later on. And Emma (along with her irritating fake British accent) just comes off as kind of pathetic for a while, until she becomes a children's author for no apparent reason. I'm guessing a lot of that development was lost in book-to-screen translation. They did have neat graphics to show how the years passed, though. So that was fun. And they did a lot in the beginning to establish that this took place in England, like having Anne Hathaway talk about "taking a wee." So, it wasn't a good movie at all, but I had fun.

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