I enjoyed David Nicholls' Starter for Ten
and it was successful enough to get a movie adaptation, but his third novel One Day
seems to be the real breakout for him, with bookshop and supermarket shelves covered in copies, trains full of people reading it, and Russell Tovey admitting on Twitter that it made him cry (I didn't 'cause I'm NAILS but I came pretty close.) It's a romantic comedy about Dexter and Emma, friends who meet on graduation day and remain in touch, going on with their lives and going out with other people, while never quite getting round to dealing with the fact that they're actually perfect for each other. The high concept is that as the title says, it all happens on "one day," St Swithin's Day (15th of July) of 1988, picking the action up again in 1989, and every year for the next 20 years. So every chapter is a year after the one before it, and Nicholls essentially introduces the characters as new each time, letting us see where they are in their lives before we piece together how they got there in the preceding year. It's a conceit he sticks to pretty strictly, I only noticed him "cheating" once, in a chapter opening with several pages on Dexter's life in the year so far, before actually getting to the 15th of July - the fact that that one chapter stood out to me proves how closely Nicholls adheres to the rule everywhere else.
Having come up with a killer gimmick Nicholls then uses it to its best advantage and the characters are very well fleshed out, you do end up looking forward to finding out where the next year has taken them, and worrying that something might have gone wrong. And obviously as the crying comment shows, there's sad moments in there (it takes place over 20 years after all so it wouldn't all be plain sailing) but most importantly it's also very funny, making me laugh out loud on the bus several times. I also liked how the period detail was evoked very subtly, things like how in the early '90s Dexter gets a job on a TV show that seems suspiciously like The Word
, or some throwaway comments about the Labour win in '97, instead of hammering home lots of heavyhanded references to what year we're now in. I'd definitely recommend this one for the comedy at least, but it's got a lot else going for it as well.