David Nicholls trained as an actor before making the switch to
writing. He is the author of two previous
novels-Starter For Ten
and The Understudy
. He has
also written many screenplays for film and television, including
the feature film adaptation of Starter For Ten
. He lives
1. To what extent do Emma's thoughts and assumptions about
Dexter [pp. 5-6] and Dexter's sketch of Emma [pp. 8-9] rely
on facile stereotypes they each harbor? In what ways do they
embody more measured reflections? How accurate are their
assessments? Does their initial encounter make the reader more
sympathetic to one of the characters? In what ways might the
reader's gender, experiences, and prejudices affect their feelings
about Emma and Dexter?
2. What determines the path Emma follows in her post-university
years? In addition to being a wonderfully comic interlude, how does
her stint with Sledgehammer Theater Cooperative enrich the portrait
of the time in which the novel is set? Is Emma's explanation of why
she ended up working at the tacky Mexican restaurant-"there was a
recession on and people were clinging to their jobs. . . . the
government had ended student grants" [p. 56]-honest? Have
circumstances and "the city defeated her" or is she responsible for
her own plight?
3. In his unsent letter Dexter writes, "I think you're scared of
being happy. . . . that you actually get a kick out of being
disappointed and under-achieving, because it's easier. . . ."[p.
42]. How do Dexter's insights into Emma compare to her own? Is he
more perceptive about her than he is about himself? Does Emma
underestimate her talents and potential? Despite its carefree tone,
does Dexter's letter betray certain doubts or misgivings about
4. Does Dexter's meteoric rise in television change the
fundamental dynamics between Dexter and Emma? What aspects of their
relationship remain unchanged? What influences the things they say
and, perhaps more importantly, what they don't say, during their
afternoon on Primrose Hill [p. 60-72]? Were you surprised to find
them vacationing together in Greece the following year? Who is more
aware of-and affected by-the sexual tensions and temptations they
5. Is Dexter's idle vision of his future [p. 9] realized during
"the late twenties" (chapters six through nine)? In what ways
is the actuality of his life an ironic comment on his expectations?
Does he act in ways that undermine his happiness? Discuss,
for example, his visit to his parents [pp. 120-135]; his
humiliating debut on Late-Night Lock-In [pp.
176-7]; his hostile, crude manner at dinner with Emma [pp.
205-210]; and his glib excuses and rationalizations for his actions
[p.190]. What glimpses are there of his more vulnerable side? Do
they make him a more appealing character?
6. "At twenty-seven, Emma wonders if she is getting old" [p.
115]. Do Emma's feelings about both the satisfactions and regrets
that come with being "grown-up" ring true? What explains Emma's
relationship with Ian? Is she willingly deceiving herself (and
Ian)? Despite her impatience with him and his desperately unfunny
comedy routines, does she have genuine feelings for Ian?
7. At the disastrous dinner on July 15, 1995, Emma declares,
"Dexter, I love you so much. . . . and I probably always will. I
just don't like you any more. I'm sorry" [p. 210]. Does Dexter
recognize why his behavior leads to this break? Does he care? Could
the dinner have ended differently?
8. Compare Dexter's reaction to his agent's report on how he is
perceived [pp. 240, 243] and Emma's reaction to her unsuccessful
interview with a publishing executive [p. 245]. What do they reveal
how each of them approaches life's ups-and-downs?
9. "Now that she was actually involved in an affair-its
paraphernalia of secret looks, hands held under tables, fondles in
the stationery cupboard-she was surprised at how familiar it all
was, and what a potent emotion lust could be, when combined with
guilt and self-loathing" [p. 221]. What does the affair with Mr.
Godalming reflect about Emma's state of mind as she approaches her
mid-thirties? What satisfaction does it give her? To what extent is
she influenced by the romantic notions and expectations society
imposes on unmarried women?
10. When he meets Sylvie Cope, Dexter thinks, "And yet, despite
all this, the downturn in professional fortunes, he is fine now,
because he has fallen in love with Sylvie, beautiful Sylvie. . . ."
[p. 251]. In what ways does the affair open Dexter's eyes to new
possibilities and a different way of life? What flaws in their
relationship does he fail to grasp fully and why? What
consequences does this have on the course of their marriage?
11. What is the significance of the wedding Dexter and Emma
attend [p. 269-296]? What do they learn about themselves and each
other that surprises, pleases, or unsettles them? What do their
conversations [pp. 286, 290, 293, for example] represent in terms
of their personal development as well as the evolution of their
12. What does the rendezvous in Paris share with Emma and
Dexter's trip to Greece nine years earlier? What impact does Emma's
success as an author and Dexter's failed marriage have on the
"balance of power" between them? Discuss the factors-including age,
their individual circumstances, and the length of their
friendship-that contribute to their willingness to be more honest
and open with each other.
13. Do Emma's musings about where life has taken her [p. 381]
resonate with you? What do Emma and Dexter at forty have in common
with the people they were on graduation night? How does Nicholls
simultaneously capture the ways people change and the persistence
of individual characteristics through the passage of time?
14. What demands does the unusual structure of One Day
make on the reader? Discuss how the yearlong gaps between chapters;
the focus on sometimes-mundane happenings rather than "big" events;
and the alternation between Dexter's and Emma's journeys within
each section increase your curiosity and engagement with the
15. Callum is casually mentioned as mutual friend in Chapter 2
[p. 21] and chapter 6 [p. 109] and Ian makes his first appearance
simply as Emma's co-worker in Chapter 3 [p. 37]; both will become
significant figures. What other secondary characters become
more important than the protagonists-and the reader-anticipate?
What do these "surprises" reflect about the way lives unfold?
16. What does One Day share with traditional
boy-meets-girl stories you are familiar with from books or movies?
What does it suggest about the relationship between love and
17. How well does the novel capture society and culture over the
twenty-year period? What specific details (references to books,
television programs, political events, etc.) help bring the
different periods to life? In what ways do the characters embody
the qualities, good and bad, of their generation?
18. Throughout the novel, Dexter and Emma withhold or suppress
their feeling for one another. Is one of them more guilty of this
and, if so, why? What role does fate (e.g. Dexter's unsent letter,
missed phone calls, etc.), along with the characters' assumptions
and misinterpretations, play in the plot? The final section of the
novel is introduced with a quote from Tess of the
D'Ubervilles and in the
acknowledgments [p. 437] Nicholls says, "A debt is owed to Thomas
Hardy." If you are familiar with Tess or
Hardy's other novels, discuss how his works might have influenced
Nicholls in writing One Day.
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