Books · Movies

David Nicholls, One Day and Great Expectations


Rankeillor Street, Edinburgh - David Nicholls, One Day
The stair door in Rankeillor Street, Edinburgh where the action of One Day starts.

I’m trying to read Dickens’ Great Expectations as quickly as I can at the moment, as I want to have read it before I go to see Mike Newell’s new film adaptation. The screenplay has been written by David Nicholls, whose third novel One Day was very popular and also very good; I also enjoyed the film adaptation enormously.

Anyway, Nicholls was writing about how he had made the screenplay for Great Expectations in The Guardian last week; he identified it as his favourite novel which suggests he would have read it a few times.

So it was interesting to come across this passage at the end of chapter nine the other day;

“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers. that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

Nicholls has attributed the unique narrative device he uses in One Day to a suggestion in Hardy; while the sentence from Dickens is perhaps not exactly suggestive of the One Day device, I wonder if it was also somewhere in Nicholls’ mind when he started writing his novel?

3 thoughts on “David Nicholls, One Day and Great Expectations

  1. Hi Stuart, I’m really enjoying your blog posts. Your thoughts on and connections between ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘One Day’ made me think again about ‘One Day’. I hadn’t realised that Nicholls had Hardy in mind regarding plot device, but I see that now, and as a devotee of Hardy perhaps that explains why ‘One Day’ eventually grew on me.
    I started reading the novel under sufferance. I didn’t warm to Emma and Dexter but I was going to persevere in respect to my book group. (Why I prefer to ‘like’ the main characters in novels, I’ve no idea.) Anyway, as it turned out, I was drawn into the plot narrative, Emma and Dexter meeting up on 15th July for twenty years, and I found that I really wanted to find out what happened. By the end of the novel I felt a whole host of emotions I didn’t expect. Perhaps it’s partly about the changing nature of close friendships over the years which rings so true for people of our age that makes it so appealing.


    1. Well, if you’re going to screw up, might as well make a job of it…
      I downloaded a copy of One Day for Kindle the other day and, lo and behold, what’s the first thing you see when you go into it? The sentence from Dickens, right there as the foreword to Part One of the novel.
      So it probably was in Nicholls mind after all…my only defence is that it was a long time since I read it…


  2. Thanks for your kind comments Jenny.
    I’m glad you too enjoyed One Day; I didn’t really think it would be my kind of thing either, because I don’t read much fiction. But I knew there was a buzz about, so managed to ask a colleague who was reading it about it in such a way that she had to really ask me if I wanted to read it when she had finished…
    The Hardy reference is in the introduction of the edition I read, the one with the still from the film on the cover; there’s also a reasonably interesting interview with Nicholls at the end.
    Yes, Dexter and Emma are extremely annoying characters. They’re variously vacuous, stupid, pusillanimous, spiteful, hurtful and selfish – so just like real people (apart from you and me of course.) As for liking the characters in books, do we find ourselves liking Pip or Estella in Great Expectations? I think not – they can be every bit as unpleasant as Dexter and Emma.
    I think it’s a very good novel and it became a very good film, which I see as much as an exercise in form as the novel. The movie (if you’ve not seen it, I’ve watched it three times now) is so keen not to offend by displaying any of the “adult” situations and pastimes described in the novel (presumably to get a 12 certificate) that it becomes as much an exercise in form as the “one day” device – the screenplay is by Nicholls incidentally.
    If you’re interested in his two other novels, they are worthwhile, although clearly intended to be comic without the depths of One Day.


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