Up until the last few chapters, I absolutely loved this book: David Nicholls’ created a wealth of characters that immediately resonated with his readers, allowing you to live their lives alongside them, feeling their growth, consuming love and devastations throughout the novel.
Following a lifelong journey, represented by a single day, is no mean feat. What Nicholls does is choose representative samples from the lives of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley to allow us to witness their rises, falls and plateaus, in order to capture hearts and minds in their struggles for their own identities, whilst maintaining an appropriately paced plot to maintain interest.
I think what helps most with this is the contrast between Emma and Dexter’s fortunes: neither are in the same place at the same time; we can see their flaws and their happiness, whilst recognising the heartbreak concealed in their inability to coexist in these happier moments. It is only when they both escape these instances that, in the novel, define them, that they can finally see one another afresh, and share a mutual love.
Likewise, all the minor characters were developed in a way to understand their motivation. Sylvie’s desire for perfection, Ian’s desire to be loved, and all those inbetween. Their interactions and reactions to Emma and Dexter, as singular people and a couple, serve to strengthen the impression we gain of them, and also reflect upon how the duo are impacting on their surrounding world.
What did annoy me, however, was the inability to maintain this. I realise Dexter and Emma had been unable to exist simultaneously in a contented state, but the final few chapters really angered me, and I still haven’t been able to decide if it’s a reaction to brilliant writing or a poor plot decision. It ruined everything the pair shared, particularly the introduction of Maddy, who represented continuity and safety within the world despite its unpredictable nature. After building Dex and Em, Em and Dex up to a beautiful crescendo, for it all to come crashing down around us, and it feels like a cheating way out. But then, my conflict comes into play: such is life – it cannot be predicted, happiness can turn sour (a la Dexter), dreams can become nightmares (thinking of the Mexican restaurant in particular). Perhaps, considering this, the title has to come into play: every single day can be marked as defining your life, and it needs to imprint who you are.
On the whole, though, this was a consuming book: it is fascinating how just one day can represent an extended period of living. It makes human life seem so small and fragile, and so easily disposed of, it makes every day seem precious in defining who we are, and how we are perceived.