One Day

David Nicholls


“One Day” by David Nicholls is a captivating novel that takes readers on a journey through the lives of its two main characters, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew. 📚✨ Published in 2009, this book quickly became a bestseller and has been cherished by readers around the world for its relatable characters and unique narrative structure.

David Nicholls, the author, is an English novelist and screenwriter known for his romantic and humorous writing style. Before “One Day,” Nicholls had already established himself as a significant voice in contemporary fiction with novels like “Starter for Ten.”

“One Day” falls into the genre of contemporary romance and literary fiction. It is set against the backdrop of the late 20th and early 21st century, providing a nostalgic feel while exploring themes of love, friendship, timing, and the complexities of life. The book’s format is distinctive, visiting the lives of its protagonists on the same day, July 15th, over 20 years, which provides a deep, evolving insight into their characters and the changing world around them. 🕰️❤️

Plot Summary

“One Day” by David Nicholls unfolds the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew over two decades, highlighting their relationship’s ups and downs. Here’s a detailed summary of the main events:

  • Exposition — The story begins on July 15, 1988, the day of their university graduation in Edinburgh. Emma and Dexter spend a day together, forming a complicated connection that will evolve over the years.
  • Rising Action — Each chapter revisits Emma and Dexter on the same day, July 15th, over successive years. We see their lives diverge and intersect; Emma struggles with unfulfilling jobs and aspirations of becoming a writer, while Dexter experiences fleeting fame and indulgence, often losing himself in superficiality.
  • Climax — The peak of the narrative occurs in the mid-1990s. After years of missed opportunities and misunderstandings, Emma and Dexter finally confront their feelings for each other, leading to a passionate affair that solidifies into a stable, loving relationship.
  • Falling Action — As their lives become more intertwined, they face various challenges together, including career changes and personal growth. Emma’s writing career starts to flourish, while Dexter grapples with his identity outside of the television limelight.
  • Resolution — Tragically, the story takes a turn when Emma dies in a bicycle accident. Dexter is devastated but eventually finds solace in continuing their shared dreams and living a life that Emma would have been proud of.

The narrative structure of “One Day” is unique, with the critical moments of Emma and Dexter’s relationship unfolding on the same day over 20 years, showing how they evolve individually and together.

Character Analysis

“One Day” features richly drawn characters whose complexities and growth drive the narrative. Here’s a detailed look at the main characters:

  • Emma Morley — A smart, kind, and witty woman with a strong sense of ethics and ambition. Throughout the novel, Emma evolves from a young graduate full of ideals and aspirations to a successful writer. Her journey is marked by personal and professional struggles, as well as her deep, evolving relationship with Dexter.
  • Dexter Mayhew — A charismatic, often self-absorbed character with a penchant for hedonism. Dexter’s journey is one of transformation, from a carefree and often irresponsible young man to a more grounded and reflective individual, largely influenced by his enduring friendship and love for Emma.

Their character development is central to the story, illustrating how their relationship and individual choices shape their lives over two decades.

Here’s a summary of their character analysis:

Emma MorleyKind, ambitious, wittyTo find fulfillment and happiness in both her career and personal lifeEvolves from an idealistic graduate to a successful author, deeply influenced by her relationship with Dexter
Dexter MayhewCharismatic, self-absorbed, hedonisticTo enjoy life to the fullest, often in a superficial mannerTransforms from a carefree individual to a more mature person who values deep, meaningful connections

These characters’ journeys are not just about their relationship but also about personal growth, facing life’s challenges, and finding one’s place in the world.

Themes and Symbols

“One Day” by David Nicholls is rich in themes and symbols that contribute to its depth and resonance. Here’s an exploration of the major ones:

  • Theme of Time and Change — The novel is structured around the concept of time, tracking Emma and Dexter’s lives over 20 years. This theme underscores the inevitability of change and the importance of moments that define and shape our lives.
  • Theme of Love and Friendship — The heart of the novel is the complex relationship between Emma and Dexter, showcasing how friendship can evolve into love and how these emotions are sustained and challenged over time.
  • Theme of Regret and Missed Opportunities — Both characters often reflect on their choices and the paths not taken. Their story highlights the impact of regret and the bittersweet nature of life’s fleeting opportunities.
  • Symbol of the St. Swithin’s Day — The novel revisits the characters each year on July 15, St. Swithin’s Day, a date traditionally associated with predicting weather and fate, symbolizing the unpredictable nature of life and love.
  • Symbol of Letters and Diaries — Written communications in the novel, such as letters and diary entries, serve as a symbol of the characters’ inner thoughts and the passage of time, providing insight into their personal growth and the changes in their relationship.

These themes and symbols weave through the narrative, enriching the story and offering layers of meaning to the unfolding relationship between Emma and Dexter, as well as their individual journeys through life.

Style and Tone

David Nicholls’ “One Day” is characterized by a unique style and tone that contribute significantly to the mood and atmosphere of the novel. Here’s an exploration of these elements:

  • Conversational and Witty — Nicholls’ writing style is known for its conversational tone, which makes the narrative engaging and relatable. The dialogue between Emma and Dexter is often witty and filled with banter, reflecting their personalities and the nature of their relationship.
  • Evocative and Reflective — The author skillfully evokes a sense of nostalgia and the passage of time through detailed descriptions of the changing settings and eras. The reflective tone allows readers to delve into the characters’ inner worlds, understanding their motivations and feelings.
  • Poignant and Bittersweet — The tone of “One Day” often oscillates between humor and poignancy, capturing the bittersweet reality of life’s joys and sorrows. Nicholls addresses themes like love, loss, and the passage of time with a sensitivity that resonates with readers.
  • Episodic Structure — The book’s format, revisiting the characters on the same day over 20 years, contributes to its distinctive style. This episodic approach not only highlights the passage of time but also builds a deep, nuanced understanding of the characters and their evolving relationship.

Nicholls’ writing style and the tone of “One Day” are integral to its appeal, offering a rich, layered narrative that balances light-hearted moments with deep emotional resonance.

Literary Devices Used in One Day

David Nicholls’ “One Day” utilizes a variety of literary devices that enhance its storytelling and thematic depth. Here are the top 10 devices used in the novel:

  1. Flashback — Nicholls frequently uses flashbacks to reveal the history and depth of Emma and Dexter’s relationship, providing context and emotional layers to their interactions.
  2. Foreshadowing — Subtle hints about future events are sprinkled throughout the narrative, creating suspense and forewarning readers of significant plot twists, especially concerning Emma’s fate.
  3. Irony — The novel often employs irony, particularly in the way characters’ expectations clash with reality, highlighting the unpredictability of life and the irony of time’s passage.
  4. Symbolism — Specific elements, like the St. Swithin’s Day date, symbolize larger themes of fate, chance, and the passage of time, enriching the narrative’s deeper meanings.
  5. Metaphor — Nicholls uses metaphors to draw comparisons that illuminate the characters’ inner experiences and the thematic undercurrents of the novel, such as likening life’s journey to a book that’s being written.
  6. Parallelism — The parallel structure of showing Emma and Dexter’s lives on the same day each year highlights their growth and changes, underscoring the theme of passing time and personal evolution.
  7. Characterization — Through detailed and nuanced characterization, Nicholls provides deep insights into Emma and Dexter’s personalities, motivations, and developments over time.
  8. Point of View — The narrative alternates between Emma’s and Dexter’s perspectives, offering a multi-faceted view of the story and their relationship.
  9. Allusion — References to cultural, historical, or literary figures and events are used to anchor the story in time and place, adding layers of meaning.
  10. Pathetic Fallacy — The use of weather and environmental conditions often reflects the emotional states and dynamics of the characters, enhancing the atmospheric mood of the novel.

These literary devices contribute to the richness of “One Day,” deepening the narrative and emotional impact on the reader.

Literary Devices Examples

In “One Day” by David Nicholls, various literary devices are used to enhance the storytelling. Here are examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices identified in the book:


  • Example: Recollections of Emma and Dexter’s university days.
  • Explanation: These flashbacks provide background to their relationship, revealing how past events shape their present interactions and feelings.


  • Example: Hints about Emma’s potential untimely death.
  • Explanation: Early in the narrative, there are subtle hints about tragic events, which create a sense of impending doom and add tension to the story.


  • Example: Dexter’s life seems perfect but feels empty.
  • Explanation: There’s an ironic contrast between Dexter’s outward success and internal dissatisfaction, highlighting the disparity between appearance and reality.


  • Example: St. Swithin’s Day as a recurring date.
  • Explanation: This day symbolizes the passage of time and the impact of fate in Emma and Dexter’s lives, connecting the narrative’s structure to its thematic core.


  • Example: Life compared to a book.
  • Explanation: This metaphor reflects the characters’ journeys, suggesting that their stories are written by the choices they make, embodying the theme of life as a narrative in progress.


  • Example: Showing the characters’ lives on the same date over years.
  • Explanation: This technique underscores the evolution of their relationship and individual growth, emphasizing the theme of time and change.


  • Example: Emma’s development from an idealistic young woman to a fulfilled writer.
  • Explanation: Detailed characterization illustrates her personal growth and the influence of her experiences and relationships on her identity.

Point of View

  • Example: Alternating between Emma and Dexter’s perspectives.
  • Explanation: This allows the reader to understand both characters deeply, facilitating a more nuanced and empathetic view of their dynamics and the story.


  • Example: References to historical and cultural events of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
  • Explanation: These allusions help situate the narrative in a specific temporal context, adding authenticity and depth to the setting and themes.

Pathetic Fallacy

  • Example: Weather changes reflecting emotional moments.
  • Explanation: The use of weather elements to mirror the characters’ emotions enhances the atmospheric and thematic resonance of the narrative, linking the external environment to the internal emotional landscape.

These examples demonstrate how literary devices in “One Day” serve to deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters, themes, and narrative structure, enriching the overall impact of the novel.

One Day – FAQs

Question: What is the significance of the title “One Day”?

  • Answer: The title “One Day” refers to the novel’s structure, which revisits the characters Emma and Dexter on the same day, July 15th, over 20 years. It signifies how a single day can reflect changes and constants in life, symbolizing the impact of time on relationships and personal growth.

Question: How do Emma and Dexter’s backgrounds influence their relationship?

  • Answer: Emma comes from a working-class background and has a strong sense of social justice and ambition, while Dexter is from a wealthier background and tends to be more carefree and hedonistic. Their differing backgrounds create both tension and attraction, influencing their dynamic and the evolution of their relationship over time.

Question: What role does timing play in Emma and Dexter’s relationship?

  • Answer: Timing is a crucial element in their relationship, as they often seem to be out of sync with each other’s lives and emotions. Their interactions over the years show how timing affects their ability to connect and understand each other, reflecting the novel’s theme of timing and fate in relationships.

Question: How does “One Day” address the theme of unfulfilled potential?

  • Answer: Both Emma and Dexter struggle with feelings of unfulfilled potential; Emma through her unmet career aspirations and Dexter through his dissatisfaction with his lifestyle and career. The novel explores how they confront these feelings, making choices that lead to growth and self-realization.

Question: What is the impact of the novel’s ending on its overall theme?

  • Answer: The novel’s ending, with Emma’s sudden death and Dexter’s subsequent mourning and recovery, highlights the theme of the unpredictability of life and the importance of cherishing every moment. It underscores the novel’s message about the preciousness of time and the significance of love and friendship.

These FAQs address key aspects of “One Day,” providing insight into its characters, themes, and narrative structure, aiding students and readers in understanding the novel’s deeper layers.


What year do Emma and Dexter first meet?1986198819901992
How does Emma describe her feelings towards Dexter in their early relationship?AdmirationIndifferenceInfatuationDislike
What is Dexter’s profession at the beginning of the novel?TeacherTelevision presenterWriterPhotographer
Where do Emma and Dexter reunite after years of separation?LondonParisEdinburghNew York
What major life event changes Dexter’s perspective on life?Losing his jobThe death of EmmaBecoming a fatherTraveling the world
How does the novel “One Day” end?Emma and Dexter getting marriedDexter moving to another countryEmma’s deathDexter starting a new job

This quiz tests comprehension of key plot points, character developments, and thematic elements in “One Day,” helping to engage with the novel’s narrative and its intricate details.


Identify the literary devices used in the following excerpt from “One Day”:

Emma and Dexter meet again, their conversations filled with nostalgia and unspoken feelings. The city around them, bathed in the golden light of sunset, seemed to echo their shared history.


  1. Metaphor – The city’s golden light of sunset metaphorically reflects the nostalgia and warmth of Emma and Dexter’s reunion.
  2. Symbolism – The sunset symbolizes endings and transitions, paralleling the characters’ evolving relationship and the passage of time.
  3. Imagery – Descriptive language (“bathed in the golden light of sunset”) creates a vivid image of the setting, enhancing the mood of the scene.