These past few days I have found myself staying up quite late reading this book. Last night I didn’t get to bed until twenty past one and even then wanted to carry on reading. But why is this?
Well the answer is simply that it is effortlessly beautiful while at the same time conveying the occasional ugliness of life. Emma Morely is ambitious, bright, full of potential but lacks any of the confidence needed to fulfil it. Dexter Mayhew is cocky, arrogant, exceedingly charming and on occasion sweet.
The two of them come from two different worlds. Yes it sounds cliché but it’s true, she’s hardworking while he’s complacent. They meet on their graduation day and the book starts with them sitting upon Emma’s bed talking about this and that as St Swithin’s Day, 15 July, 1988 dawns.
The awkwardness is endearing and it doesn’t show potential for the great friendship that blossoms between them, it’s entirely unremarkable except for their meeting and this is one of the many qualities that makes it believable. While they achieve things in the span of twenty years, those things aren’t usually achieved on the day. Stuff happens in the days that we don’t see but there’s still a sense that we’ve seen them grow up.
Of course growing up doesn’t go smoothly. Emma, despite her double first, soon finds herself working in a dead-end job with no motivation to dig herself out of it while Dexter is off travelling the world.
Over the first few years you see Emma coming out of her shell and Dexter enjoying life. He’s a guy without any plans and as such he finds himself on TV. Life for both of them is good, but it doesn’t stay that way. Emma goes from a dead-end job to a dead-end relationship while Dexter hops from show to show never able to find approval and follows the grimy road of drugs and alcohol.
Both characters have their flaws, it’s not always understandable why they do what they do but it doesn’t seem as if it could go any other way.
I don’t really want to spoil anything for you, I’d say it’s a must read, it’s kind of enlightening to. In comparison to Dexter’s, Emma’s life seems to go a bit better. Dexter is plagued by tragedy and after his first few years out of university life goes downhill for him. Every time it seems he’s about to get better something else strikes him down. While he’s not the best person in the world he tries to be and that alone redeems him.
The climax of the tale comes a few chapters before the end. It’s unfair and heart wrenching but the pain is lessened by Nicholls’ clever ending.
I love this book. Most times with one-off novels I feel underwhelmed, I feel like it hasn’t been finished properly or has been rushed through, but this defies that. If it had gone on for any longer it would have been ruined. It’s pretty funny too. Although the film adaptation isn’t my favourite I’m glad I went to see it, otherwise I would never have bought the book.
If you’ve read it what do you think of it? If you haven’t, you have to!