We meet our protagonists at the age of 23. My “mid-thirties” outlook is challenged and I must transport myself back to the age of 23 – in my hands a fresh degree and in my stomach a storm of anticipation because my “life” was finally beginning. In that frame of mind, Emma and Dexter come alive for me. It is easier for me to sympathize with Emma’s desire to change the world, even though it seems a bit naive. I really like the way Nicholls balances her outspoken nature with insecurity about Dexter. Although, that makes her confidence seem more like bravado. Then again, who isn’t trying on personalities for the future at 23?
I had a real laugh when Dexter’s hope for the future is revealed – what a sharp contrast to Emma! He hopes to live “without mess or complications…there should be a lot of fun and no more sadness than absolutely necessary” (9). It’s difficult to understand in the first chapter why Dexter likes Emma; why he sticks around when his mind is telling him to leave. On her part it seems to make sense, but Dexter could have any girl, be anywhere, I find it a little hard to believe that he genuinely likes Emma.
This is ever so apparent with the letter writing. We live in an age where we get our “I love you’s” in short form through bright red hearts on a screen (whether computer or phone). However, these letters prove that length of communication does not necessarily mean better communication. Sure, Emma takes the time to explain every detail of her mundane existence, but she doesn’t tell Dexter what she really wants to tell him: that she loves him! Dexter’s return postcards are hilarious. Short, simple and drive Emma mad with need for more details about what he feels. Whether we write letters, postcards, email or text -women still want men to communicate more and men are happy to tell us a city has flooded and believe that is enough. I pity Emma who tries so hard to keep the relationship alive while Dexter fulfills his goal of having fun. It is no secret to either of them that Emma is serious about life and Dexter believes it is a never-ending party.
Dexter’s immaturity becomes endearing in chapter 3. He’s still so young – at 24 the opinions of his parents, especially his mother, still matter. It isn’t until chapter three that I begin to feel a connection to Dexter’s character. His desire for approval and his complete lack of sense of self make him (a little) less of a cad. I can almost forgive his easy use of women for the express purpose of pleasure.
Ignoring Dexter’s free-loving ways is made easier by the drunken letter he writes to Emma. I love the back-and-forth between Dexter’s letter to Emma and Emma’s life in London. My favourite line of the letter is when Dexter tells Emma he will throw the copy of Howard’s End at her head when they meet at the Taj Mahal (47) because I can almost feel Emma’s excitement and laughter at reading Dexter’s plan. It is what she dreams about. And, I am incredulous that this is how the romantic part of their story begins. But, Nicholls has a little fun at the expense of the reader because the letter is never delivered. Oh well, I am left thinking…maybe next year.
Emma’s rut is infuriating. I am stunned to read that a year later she is still working at the same job – and when she is offered the manager’s position I am insulted for her. Her tears speak volumes. I wish her mouth would have too. I find it difficult to understand why she doesn’t reject the position immediately. Although, I’m not sure what is more insulting, being offered the manager’s position or Dexter’s return with Naomi (Gnome-y). I feel so sad for Emma. No career options, the man she loves constantly in bed with other women, no home of her own…there seems to be no hope left for her at the age of 25! I find myself losing respect for her throughout the chapter and agreeing with her when she questions how Dexter benefits from their friendship (71). However, Nicholls pulls me back on her side. I feel myself rooting for Emma once more when she decides “Time to tidy up your life. Time to start again,” (72) at the end of chapter 4. I am eager to read what Emma will decide to do and how without-a-plan-Dexter will fit into her new, neat life.
One of the things that draws me in the most is Emma and Dexter’s humourous banter. I am impressed by their wit and easy dialogue. It is near the end of chapter 4 that I am finally convinced of the “fit” of these two characters and am actually looking forward to see how they will evolve, individually and together.
Well, there you have it. My views on the first four chapters of One Day. I am very interested in reading your thoughts on these two….good? not so good? What were laugh-out-loud moments for you? The moments you most felt connected to them, if at all? Do you like the writing style? Let’s chat it up!