Saturday, 3 July 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - One Day / The Post Office

I think I'm reasonably well read. When ever there is one of those top 100 books ever etc charts I've usually read more than not. However, I've come to the conclusion that I'm a pure populist at heart. I normally have 3 books on the go at the same time and with a quirk of fate this week finished two at the same time . One a cult classic and one a bestseller.

I've resisted reading any Bukowski for ages. The main reason for this is that along with The Road (I'm with Tracey Thorn on this "Me and Saint Jack K never had much to say .....while you are out of your head who is making the bed?") and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" he used to be endlessly championed by someone I knew at college as having the answer to the secrets of the universe or so it seemed the way he went on about them. This guy was one of those people forever trying to sell you a socialist worker and would define everything by where it fitted into the great class war. My politics are to the left but he was so annoying it was enough to turn you into a Tory.

I'm also a bit suspicious in people whose reputation seems to be built more on how he lived his life rather than anything he wrote and I think Bukowski is one of those (Before reading "The Post Office"I knew his name but couldn't give you the title of any of his books)

So I should have known better. However, 20 years later I've relented and given it a go (The Sunday Times calls it "amazing, hilarious and unfalteringly entertaining" - actually there is another warning sign, books described as "hilarious" in a review). I disliked it immensely. The story follows the life of drunkard and womaniser Henry as lives a hand to mouth existence (apart from a short period when he ends up for a time living with a millionaire's daughter!!??) working as a postman. The structure is fluid either very cleverly as if told through a drunken haze or because it just isn't very good. We see Henry stumble from booze to work , to somebody's bed back to booze, add in a throwaway rape and I'm beginning to think that the reviewer in the Sunday Times and I have a different definition of humour. I know I'm missing the point and that the character is so awful is the point. However i don't think it is brave, experimnetal or revolutionary, just not that well writtenIf you want snapshots of American hope and despair , go to Raymond Carver but avoid the cult of Bukowski

"One Day" on the other hand is a joy, bitter sweet but still a joy. David Nicholl's first book "Starter for 10" which focused on one boy's drive to get on the same university challenge team as his unrequited love was good, but this novel takes it to another level.

The set up is kind of high concept but not that original. We meet Emma and Dexter one day in 1988 when they are both just graduated students and toying with having a one night stand. Emma wanting a cuddle and a relationship , Dexter wanting a shag and a quick exit. For the next 20 chapters we revisit both characters on the same day over the next 20 years. As their voices alternate we learn of their lives together and apart. On a basic level it becomes the classic will they / won't they of "When Harry Met Sally". On a deeper level it is about enduring friendship and love, the slow change from youthfulness to maturity and the twist and turns of everyone's lives, the almosts and the maybes. It is also a great social history of the Blair years.

At the heart you have 2 characters who become as familiar as friends and even as you despair at Dexter's shallowness and Emma's acceptance of second best, you desperately care for both of them. Unlike the Post Office it is genuinely funny and immensely moving. It is chic lit for blokes but ignore the fact that there is a Tony Parsons quote on the cover, this is like or maybe even better than Nick Hornby at his best.

I think one of the reasons I loved this book so much is that I was a student in 1988 and on many levels the paths that Emma and Dexter took felt scarily familiar, like having a version of your life played back to you. Not in the big things that happen but in the small details and emotions that bring a jolt of recognition

The perfect book for ex 40 something students

You can buy "One Day" here


  1. Yep, and yep.

    Tried Bukowski, couldn't get into him. Yes, Carver is much preferable.

    And One Day may turn out to be my book of the year.

  2. hi Rol

    I really didn't want "one day" to end. it will be near the top of my favs this year sa well


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