Bum day

I like the author of One Day, David Nicholls.  It’s practically impossible not to.  I saw him give a couple of readings from One Day at a trendy Notting Hill book event around the time of its original release, circa March / May 2009.  He was affable, charming, self-effacing, deeply motherable and understated; almost embarrassed to be there, on a stage in front of such a number of people, in such a building.  Yet not nervous and perfectly fluent.

His work is always readable.  Several years before, while travelling around South East Asia in a sulk because I was apparently unable to get any sort of job I wanted at home, I read his earlier book, Starter For Ten.  It was also converted to the screen a few years ago, starring the wholly winning James McAvoy – as well as my pal Benedict Cumberbatch (our meeting and that post remains the sole reason for 95% of this site’s traffic).

I loved that book and almost felt guilty for loving it and being moved by it as much as I did.  Before I set off my brother gave me a paperback of three Graham Greene novels.  It looked classic and worthy and dense and I didn’t get along with any of it.  Backpack battered, the book eventually disintegrated on a short internal flight.  Repairing it seemed futile so I made no effort and left it scattered on the floor under my seat.

Starter For Ten stayed with me, though.  Sure, it was populist, but it was also extremely funny and there was a tremendous voice.

The same voice behind One Day, of course.  Not long after hearing David Nicholls reading from it, I was made redundant and found myself flailing for employment once more – not that I really wanted it.  All it did was shit in my face, by and large.  And I seldom enjoyed it anyway.  Still, rather than sit and stew on my redundancy pay-out, worrying and wondering what to do next, I used some of it to take a few weeks in South Africa and do some volunteering in a remote valley, and take a safari.  It was on this trip, almost exactly two years ago, that I read One Day.

I knew I’d get along with it ok.  It’d be easy to read and witty, ideal lazy holiday fodder.  What surprised and irritated me was the lead male character.  Dexter was everything I hated about a person, throughout his whole journey.  Yet he commanded the affections of the apparently perfect virtuous female lead, Emma.  Clearly this was intended and his character was designed this way, but it irked and confused me throughout.  I never worked out why.  Besides being good looking and well-bred, having a charisma and confidence  – I couldn’t fathom the appeal.  Was this Nicholls’s way of saying girls are shallow and incomprehensible?

It similarly irritated throughout the film too.  In fact in the film I probably identified and empathised more with Rafe Spall’s buffoonish character, Ian.  (I fear Rafe Spall is getting typecast as loveable buffoon).  I could well understand his character’s frustration and hatred of Dexter.  Perhaps I am Ian, the quirky but unfunny, charmless clod.

This incomprehension of females and what is and isn’t attractive to them was underlined a couple of weeks ago.  A female had been with a guy for ten years.  Perfectly fit and healthy, he had never worked and was happy playing the benefits system.  They had a child together before splitting up and thanks to 50/50 custody she also paid him child support.  But she endured ten years of him.  Ten years.  The tolerance levels and fear of being alone is bewildering.

Being steadfastly independent blinkers you to the addiction of dependency many people have: a dependency on comfort and company, if nothing else, and even if the quality of that comfort and company is lacking, and even if in some ways they’re horrendously alone.  Because it’s better than actually being alone.

Not that this was quite the case for Emma, because it is illustrated that she sincerely loved Dexter.  Fuck knows why though.  He starts out a dick, becomes more of a dick, then slightly less of a dick but still a really very much self-regarding dick, (be pleased that she found someone, fuckwit!) then a wallowing dick, and by the end he’s.. well, still a dick.

Added to this is the ‘London for Americans’ cinematography and Anne Hathaway’s hysterical Yorkshire accent, which is as changeably disorientating as an English summer.  As in the book, The Thing that happens towards the end felt like a fairly desperate plot device to conclude the novel.  Although I think I did leak a little at that part in the book – not too much as I was sitting in the front of a safari Jeep with our guide – at the film I felt nothing, and would bet that someone who hadn’t read the book could see it coming some distance off.  I didn’t even smirk at the amusing one-liners which were lifted from the book.  Not that there were many.

**An addendum to this.  I just read a review which says Nicholls wrote the screenplay for the film, which puts me at even more of a loss regarding its anaemia.  One which sadly didn’t translate at all.

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2 Responses to Bum day

  1. Mya says:

    I bought the book for somebody as a present, hoping I would be able to read it after them. It serves me right that she lost the book (or maybe she binned it?) So, I still haven’t read it,as I write. I think I might avoid the film. The book sounds interesting, if only for its plot device. Rafe Spall rocks – he was great in that Channel 4 thing about a sports journalist.

    • swashbuckled says:

      Not a terrible book at all. Cute concept, although the ending hints at a cop-out after running down dead-end. Like Rafe too but feel he needs to do something which challenges his amiable buffoon typecast.

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