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Quick Outline

The 15th of July, 1988: that first significant day marks the spot. The spot in two people’s lives, revisited yearly by the reader. Significant because it is the day after graduation, when life rolls ahead, mysterious, exciting, unknown. Significant because it is a day of meeting, the opening bracket of Emma and Dexter. Significant because part of living, of being alive, means we live our days blindly, one day refuses to be significant until the aftermath of what it has prompted. We do not know at what point the bracket will close the sentence, at what point any of it will make any sense at all. And so only when the bracket closes at the end of the novel do we realise what weight that one day held.

This is what I love so much about One Day. It is more than just fiddly plot; relationships, love, career, holidays, highs and lows, dreams and regret. Plot allows philosophy, without actually saying anything philosophical: a terrifying (if you allow your mind to wander there) objective response to our lives and the way they happen, without us knowing or even deciding. Nicholls quotes Dickens beautifully before opening the first chapter and makes this point better than I ever could:

‘But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a long 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 that memorable day.’    Dickens, Great Expectations

And so we follow Emma and Dexter until the closing bracket shuts the story tight on them. We regret, we understand, we hate, all the while seeing in their lives our own reflected back. The plot travels fast, of course, when a day of each year takes only a few pages to read. With this speed comes that awful feeling you get when reading a book you love, the nasty feeling that you’re reading to fast and soon it will all be over. And there, cleverly, One Day enforces what all old people say constantly, that idea young people have yet to fully understand: how quickly life slips away from us. How fast the years fly by. Hence, it is a book which makes you stop, and think, even if it’s just for a second after reading, about the fragility and loveliness of life.

A Picture Portrait

The 90’s club scene: Dexter, working as a TV presenter falls into drugs, and becomes a figure of public distaste. His Mother, suffering from terminal cancer, is ashamed of his career and the pair struggle to get on during the significant closing stages of her life. His lifestyle slowly destroys his relationships, the seedy side of London soaking him into its party army. Though this part of the tale is sad and cringeworthy, it manages to be painfully funny at times too. The terrible oxymoron Dexter’s life becomes.

Edinburgh: The place where the pair meet, standing at an idealistic distance away from their modern life. A place where dreaming was encouraged, and, especially for Emma, anything was possible. A time that they look back upon, where a solid idea of who and what they used to be exists, standing tall for them to refer. At times they look back and regret the change, at other times are able to feel glad for it.

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My Favourite Review…

Here is an extract from my favourite review, which is written by Leisl Schillinger for The New York Times. The rest of it can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/books/review/Schillinger-t.html

‘Those of us susceptible to nostalgic reveries of youthful heartache and self-invention (which is to say, all of us) longed to get our hands on Nicholls’s new novel, once our friend revealed its premise:

In 1988, the day after commencement, two college graduates briefly, romantically collide. The girl has pined for the boy for years; the boy is more aware of the girl than he lets on. She’s an earnest, outspoken lefty, he a handsome, apolitical toff who “liked the word ‘bourgeois’ and all that it implied” and “wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph.” Their chemistry is as inarguable as their differences, but because of the pride, carelessness and misplaced optimism of youth, they let time and distraction separate them. Yet they never lose track of each other. “One Day” checks in on their intersecting lives once a year, every July 15, from 1988 through 2007.’

Criticism

The ending is fairly depressing, but I can’t hate Nicholls for it because things like that happen, are realistic, true to life. However, it wasn’t necessarily the right way for the novel to go, and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of the fickle ability human beings have to recover from loss. An endurance which throws into question our changeable nature, whether our type of love is really able to last through anything and everything. Luckily for Nicholls, I don’t mind being left with these depressing kind of thoughts and usually prefer blighted endings to happy, run-over-the-hills-screaming-happily ones. (Be warned: you can’t stop reading this book….I was so tired because I didn’t properly sleep untill it was finished.)

Love,

Zoe

5/5 Stars

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Quick Outline

Spinning a web of love, beauty and betrayal, O’Farrell binds her tale of two mothers with poetic mastery. Everything is closely observed, the ordinary and mundane cornered and draped in bright nostalgia. She plays the reader, a third of the book spent with that incomprehensible feeling of dread for a character drawn out so carefully; so intrinsically designed, that their fate becomes one in which the reader shares.

The story dwells upon the lives of two mothers. Lexie, living in 1950’s London is free of all responsibility. She is stunning, gloriously and intimidatingly wonderful. Falling pregnant with Theo shatters none of her journalistic ambitions; and she continues, as a single mother, to gain repute.

Fifty years on and Elina, an artist, arrives home with her first child, only to find herself utterly displaced by a complicated, and almost deadly birth. The sudden rush and flood of blood and her continued weakness haunts her, leaving her unsettled and confused. But whilst Elina gradually heals, partner Ted begins to slide, slowly losing himself. His new role as Father sends him drifting back to a childhood which all at once blurs and un-writes itself. A tale without an end which no longer fits the life he has grounded himself upon.

As the two tales cross and collide, the reader is a confronted with a poignant idea of motherhood. A message which concerns the cost and beauty of such uncompromising love. The book causes it’s characters to stand up, with such force of reality, that the reader can’t help but cry and care for them. Wonderful words are bound so peacefully; they allow the characters to become known, to impart a perfect message with ease and distinction.

A Picture Portrait

1950-60 Bohemian London: Fast paced and fresh. Exciting new progress being made throughout society. Innes, the love of Lexie’s life, shares with her his passion for Art. The paintings he owns remaining as an immortal feature of the novel; they remain a constant, a reminder that whilst lives break apart art stands to serve us, often unshakable in what it insists on saying.

Blood: The opening Elina sections dwell upon the loss of blood. The high quantity, the seeming impossibility of stemming it. The idea that now it is lost, something has peeled itself away from Elina. A part of her shed and left at the hospital. A part she will never regain, tied up in the child she has now to care for constantly. Gaining the baby yet losing an important part of herself through his arrival.

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Favourite Review

For a review which finds more flaw in the novel read this one from The Sleepless Reader:

http://thesleeplessreader.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/the-hand-that-first-held-mine-by-maggie-ofarrell/

Critique

I fail to critique this novel. For me it was far too beautifully crafted. Although if you are queasy, the sections which return to Elina’s birth made my tummy hurt!

Love,

Zoe

4/5 Stars

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                             Quick Outline

Daisy Waugh’s Last Dance with Valentino is a twirling, musical, suspense filled lovestory; weaving a flowery tale around the real life of Rudolph Valentino, famous actor and early pop icon of the 1920’s. The story opens on seventeen-year-old Jenny Doyle and her impossible, cureless artist father as they cross the Atlantic; from gloomy wartime London to the seemingly sparkling freshness of New York, where it appears, almost anything is possible. Jenny is enrolled immediately as a nanny for the rich and dysfunctional de Saulles, spending her first night at their home, ‘The Box’ , undetected; obscured by inconsequence. Whilst the de Saulles and their guests are too far removed by alcohol, snobbery and their own distorted relationships to harbour any interest in Jenny, Rudolpho/Rudy is drawn to her. He is, at that time, a lowly dance teacher, and the pair are able to share in the alien feeling of loneliness which is married resolutely to the displacement of home. That night they dance and from then on their friendship and future love becomes sealed indefinitely.

Eventually, however, affairs at ‘The Box’, which had been in gradual, jarring decline; reach a climax, sending the pair, who are by now lovers, orbiting on separate paths, which, due to unlucky circumstance and the cruel hand of fate, fail to cross for another ten years.

The story is one of loneliness and loss, of an aching love which remains constant despite the passing of hard, unrelenting time. Albeit a rather painful subject matter; the hodgepodge of poignant and colourful characters, the structure which zigzags back and forth through time, and the first person narrative voice of Jenny (brilliantly funny), leaves the reader able to lift their head above the drowning pressure of dismal circumstance. Instead we live the tale on a skipping heartbeat, breath held in suspense, longing desperately for the two to meet. It helps that Jenny is dysfunctional, imperfect, and yet wholly loveable; the reader able to find part of themselves in amongst her numerous flaws.

A Picture Portrait

Flapper Girls: Jenny, on  moving to Hollywood, finds that looking right compliments survival. The sections of her tale which find her growing her hair or wearing drab clothes are the bleakest moments in her life; the cinematic air of Hollywood refusing to reward those who will not conform to the desperately high standards of fabulous.

Busy and Bustling American Streets: The heat, the dust, the constant movement and air which crackles with excitement. The smell of fresh paint, champagne, coke; glamour is everywhere, seeping into everyone and everything. Possibilities appear endless, opportunity seems to shine constantly. Of course, it is all a mirage, a trick which never tires or bores its lovesick audience.

 

My Favourite Review…

Can be found on wordpress at: http://thebookoftomorrow.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/review-last-dance-with-valentino-by-daisy-waugh/

 

Criticism

Whilst the story was suspense filled and lovely, I was haunted by disbelief. The foundations, I felt, had not been laid seriously enough in the opening moments. Had enough happened between them in that brief period to ensure their love would last ten long years? However, if you are a classic, idealistic, old-fashioned romantic then read read read! It is perfect holiday, sunny day reading for this summer.

Love,

Zoe

 3/5 Stars

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