Thursday, 19 April 2012

One Day by David Nicholls

I wasn’t sure what to expect from David Nicholl’s One Day, but the hype behind its release as ‘a major motion picture’ and the cheesy cover on my edition using a poster of the film didn’t fill me with enthusiasm. This was a shame, because although the device of recounting the lives of two young people on the same day each year seems a little forced at first (its full impact isn’t felt until the end of the novel) it is a wonderfully skewed prism with which to analyse the triumphs and disappointments of life between youth and middle-age.

Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley meet on their graduation day at Edinburgh University, 15 July 1988. They spend the night together before going their separate ways, promising to stay in touch. The book then follows them each July 15th for the next twenty years as their friendship develops into a ‘will they won’t they’ love affair.

By the mid nineties, Dexter is a successful presenter on ‘post pub’ television, front man for an oafish late-night show called largin’ it, and living a hedonistic high life in central London. Flush with cash, and knocking back the drink and drugs like they’re going out of fashion, on this particular 15th of July, he is supposed to be driving back to the family home to see his mother, who is dying. Unfortunately, he has been out on the tiles the night before with dubious acquaintances, pilled up the eyeballs on ecstasy:

On the 15th of July 1993 the sun rises at 05.01 a.m. Dexter watches it from the back of a decrepit mini-cab as he returns home from a stranger’s flat in Brixton. Not a stranger exactly, but a brand new friend, one of many he is making these days, this time a graphic designer called Gibbs or Gibbsy, or was it maybe Biggsy, and his friend, this mad girl called Tara, a tiny birdlike thing with woozy, heavy eyelids and a wide scarlet mouth who doesn’t talk much, preferring to communicate through the medium of massage.

Only a few minutes beforehand the drugs have worn off and in a flash of realisation, Dexter is acquainted with the fact that he’s in a flat in SW9 with people he doesn’t know and that he needs to get home immediately. After he’s had a drink that is:

It is starting to get light. Blackbirds are singing on Coldharbour Lane and he has the sensation, so vivid that it is almost an hallucination, that he is entirely hollow; empty, like an easter egg. Tara the masseuse has created a great twisted knot of tension between his shoulders, the music has stopped, and someone on the bed is asking for tea, and everyone wants tea, tea, tea, so Dexter disentangles himself and crosses to the immense fridge, the same model as his own, sinister and industrial like something you’d find in a genetics lab. He opens the door and stares blankly inside. A salad is rotting in its bag, the plastic swollen and about to burst. His eyes flicker in their sockets, making his vision judder one last time, and coming back into focus he sees a bottle of vodka. Hiding behind the fridge door he drinks a good two inches, washing it down with a sour gulp of apple juice that fizzes repulsively on his tongue.

Back at his bachelor pad, he tries to get it all together, with a spectacular lack of success:

Dexter’s bed is imported, Italian, a low, bare black platform that stands in the centre of the large bare room like a stage or a wrestling ring, both of which functions is sometimes serves. He lies there awake at 9.30, dread and self-loathing combined with sexual frustration. His nerve-endings have been turned up high and there is an unpleasant taste in his mouth, as if his tongue has been coated with hairspray. Suddenly he leaps up and pads across high-gloss black floorboards to the Swedish kitchen. There in the freezer compartment of his large, industrial fridge, he finds a bottle of vodka and he pours an inch into his glass then adds the same amount of orange juice. He reassures himself with the thought that, as he hasn’t been to sleep yet, this is not the first drink of the day, but the last drink of last night. Besides, the whole taboo about drinking during daytime is exaggerated; they do it in Europe. The trick is to use the uplift of the booze to counteract the downward tumble of the drugs; he is getting drunk to stay sober which when you think about it is actually pretty sensible. Encouraged by this logic, he pours another inch and a half of vodka, puts on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack and swaggers to the shower. Half and hour later he is still in the bathroom, wondering what he can do to stop the sweating. He has changed his shirt twice, showered in cold water, but still the perspiration comes bubbling up on his back and forehead, oily and viscous like vodka which perhaps is what it is. He looks at his watch. Late already. He decides that he’ll try driving with the windows down.

His arrival at his parents home in a disgraceful state doesn’t auger well for the rest of the day, which gets progressively worse as he tops himself up with wine. Sent home on the train after his father tells him he’s too drunk to drive, he tries to phone Emma, but gets her answer phone instead. The course of true love, it seems, does not want to run smoothly...

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