callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

Two Books

It’s quite rare for me to buy new books but I got these with high hopes. As it turned out, I liked one much more than the other and it wasn’t the one I expected.

I’d never heard of One Day by David Nicholls until lurpak wrote a review which inspired me to read it. Behind the times as usual, as the book is already a bestseller and smothered with appreciative quotes from Nick Hornby, Jonathan Coe and other luminaries. It follows the lives of Emma and Dexter over twenty years, from 1988 to 2008. He’s a golden boy, she’s a chippy northerner and the one with a good degree. When one’s up, the other’s down and so their lives go on, always linked. All reports are made on July 15th, St Swithin’s Day. The author acknowledges a debt to Billy Bragg’s song so I looked it up and here’s the last verse:

Thanks all the same
But I just can't bring myself to answer your letters
It's not your fault
But your honesty touches me like a fire
The Polaroids that hold us together
Will surely fade away
Like the love that we spoke of forever
On St Swithin's Day

‘The Polaroids that hold us together’. That’s a brilliant line and very relevant to the story. The whole twenty years of their lives, the whole novel, hangs on just one event, immediately after their graduation:
‘This is where it all begins. Everything starts here, today.’
Em and Dex reminded me of Harriet and Vesey in Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek, leading separate lives yet never able to give up the other.
At first I struggled with it, thinking all the time, ‘Grow up!’ but I got drawn in, genuinely interested in the characters and wanting to know what would happen to them. I longed for a happy ending.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson has had such good blog reviews that I was really looking forward to it. Set in an English village, it tells the story of Major Pettigrew, retired, and Mrs Ali, proprietor of the village shop. Both are widowed, both appreciate Kipling, good manners and good tea. The major has a son who is incredibly selfish; Mrs Ali has a family full of people who would like to run her life for her. I got very fond of both the main characters and again, I looked forward to a happy ending. It’s well written, amusing and I enjoyed reading it. But.

I felt the author hadn’t really decided whether she wanted to write a romantic comedy or a melodrama focused on racial and cultural tensions; the resulting mixture is uncomfortable. Then, although I loved or hated the main characters I couldn’t believe in this village. Old as I am, I don’t know anyone called Alma or Gertrude; these days, active pensioners are all called Sue, or Gill or Liz. So I felt that although set in the present day, the book had an old-fashioned feel to it which didn’t quite work.

One Day is much better constructed and more professionally written so to my surprise, it was the one I preferred.
Tags: david nicholls, helen simonson

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