One Day - Chapter 1 - 8 Summary & Analysis

David Nicholls (writer)
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Chapter 1 - 8 Summary

On Rankeillor Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley lay in bed, talking about future plans after college. Emma asks Dexter where he thinks he'll be when he's forty, and Dexter replies that he hopes he is rich or famous -or both. Emma, a native of Yorkshire, thinks that being famous sounds morbid. Emma wants to change the world somehow. Emma dreams aloud about the future, about Dexter having had three divorces and no children. But Dexter wants an uncomplicated life of success, and he is worried that the one-night stand with Emma will have bad repercussions. Though they have known each other for four years, they really don't know too much about each other. In fact, Dexter has believed Emma's name to be "Anna" until that evening.

Emma is working for Sledgehammer Theater Cooperative on the play "Cruel Cargo", about slavery. Emma works with a kid named Sid, who hates the job, and is very nervous about the production. The year between graduation and the theater is spent with false starts and chance encounters with Dexter here and there. Dexter had opted not to stay in China, but to travel for a year to various party towns. She and Dexter write to one another as they go. Emma now desires to be an actress, and to be in bed with Dexter.

Dexter, meanwhile, is in Rome, teaching English and chasing girls, including his own students, one of which is named Tove. Dexter goes to meet his mother, Alison, at a cafe in the Piazza della Rotunda. Dexter's father, Stephen, is in the hotel with heat sickness. Alison asks her son about his love life, and wonders whatever happened to Emma Morley. She also wonders about his future, and Dexter says he plans to stay in Rome until October. Alison asks his son if he intends to pursue journalism or photography, and when he plans to settle down. Dexter doesn't see the need to rush. Alison is drunk, and Dexter doesn't know why, and she says she will tell him the following day.

Emma is in India, near the Taj Mahal, working at a Tex-Mex restaurant headed up by Scott McKenzie. Scott introduces a new member of the team, Ian Whitehead, and asks Emma to show him the ropes. Ian asks Emma out, but Emma declines. In a letter to Emma from Dexter, Dexter tells her he thinks she is afraid to be happy. Dexter tells her in the letter to meet him at the Taj Mahal on August 1. Dexter has the need to see Emma, but he can't figure out why.

Emma is still working at the Tex-Mex place with Ian and Scott. Scott is moving on to head up a new chain of contemporary Italian places, and has to appoint a successive manager before he leaves. Emma is given the job, but wants the night to think it over. Emma feels as if her life is going nowhere. Two years since college, she has done nothing. But her depression is momentarily stopped when Dexter shows up with what appears to be his current girlfriend. Dexter is happy to see her, and wants to buy Emma a drink, but Emma can't because she is working.

Dexter has been working at Redlight Productions for a weekend magazine program on television, about youth culture, drugs, diseases, music, and so on. He has abandoned the idea of being a photographer because he thinks it would have been too much struggle. Dexter and Emma meet up again later, and Dexter explains that the girl he was with wasn't his girlfriend. The two catch up. Dexter has been drinking more and more, and Emma hasn't had any movement in her love life. She has given up on the idea of being in a relationship with Dexter. Dexter thinks she should come to work for Redlight, and offers to marry her when she is 40 if she is still single. Emma doesn't want to be married.

Dexter and Emma devise rules for their meetings, such as no nudity, sleeping in separate bedrooms, and so on. They are currently headed to Greece on vacation together. Dexter has become a TV presenter, and he has become easily recognizable to people. He finds he enjoys being on camera. In Greece, Dexter claims to have only been able to find a single room for them. Dexter discovers he is still very attracted to Emma. They head out to the beach, only to discover belatedly that it is a nude beach. Dexter wants to go nude, but Emma is reluctant. Back at the room, Emma sees Dexter nude while showering. He watches her get dressed.

Emma decides the two should tell secrets to the other about themselves, or they will run out of things to talk about in eight days. Dexter reveals he once mistakenly kissed a guy while drunk at a club. Emma reveals she wrote poetry about Dexter in college. That night, after dinner, they go skinny-dipping in the ocean. Dexter tries to get Emma to have a fling with him, but she will have none of it. While they are swimming, Dexter's clothes are stolen, but his wallet remains on the beach. He is angry because his underpants were expensive.

Dexter's fame continues to grow, and he is back in the United Kingdom, in England. He and his former roommate, Callum O'Neill, are at a club. Callum is a self-made man, getting wealthy from refurbishing computers. He drinks very little and does no drugs at all, which is a rarity at the upscale club they attend. Dexter drinks copiously and does drugs frequently. Dexter meets a girl named Tara, whom he at once moves to seduce. Dexter suddenly finds himself thinking of Emma, and how much he wants to see her. Back at his room, Dexter no longer wants Tara, who is much older than he thought without the effects of the drugs.

Emma is living in Earl's Court, drinks moderately, and looks after her health. She is now twenty-seven and wonders if she is getting old. She is closer with her family, and has a postgraduate degree in Education so she can teach. Dexter, meanwhile, goes to visit his parents. Dexter's father, Stephen, can smell the alcohol on his breath, and is not amused. He sends Dexter to the garden to see Alison, who is suffering from cancer and has lost her hair to chemotherapy. Dexter brings along a gift of paperbacks for his mother from Emma, and his mother is happy to talk about Emma. His mother disapproves of the way Dexter conducts his show, for example, telling viewers to find Britain's ugliest girlfriend. She wants him to do something good. Dexter helps her to her room to nap, and he also goes to nap.

Later in the day, Dexter and Alison talk some more. She tells her son that he has it in him to be an exceptional young man, and she is worried he isn't very nice anymore. Dexter's father drives him to the train station afterwards, but tells him if he ever returns to the house in such a state, he will not let Dexter inside. Dexter is speechless.

Ian Whitehead has become a standup comedian, but the fame and fortune have not yet come to him. He meets Emma at the Convent Garden branch of Forelli's. This is their second date. Emma has had her first job interview for teaching, and Ian is very happy for her. Emma and Ian get drunk, and they pay for dinner and leave. Emma decides to spend the night with Ian. All the while, Dexter calls Emma, but Emma is not home.

Ian and Emma are in a relationship. Emma is a school teacher at Cromwell Road Comprehensive School, and tonight she is overseeing a production of "Oliver!". Dexter, meanwhile, is preparing to begin his own television show, one that will be broadcast live. He is feeling nervous, and wishes Emma was around to talk to, but she is not available the way she used to be, and Dexter is resentful of this. At the school, Emma has to moderate a fight between two cast members. Dexter does the show drunk, while Emma's show is a resounding success. Dexter's cohost, Suki Meadows, steals the show, and she and Dexter agree to work together better for the next show.

Chapter 1 - 8 Analysis

The one-night stand that Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew share is anything but one night, and anything but ordinary. It is the beginning of a twenty-year friendship that will ultimately blossom into real romance. For the moment, Emma and Dexter are two normal, average twenty-something kids. Emma is a wide-eyed dreamer who wants to change the world, even if it is only a part of the world that she changes. Dexter, in typical fashion, wants a quiet, uninterrupted life, and to be famous in the process. Emma believes that being famous is a bit of a morbid thing, and Dexter can't imagine being anything ordinary. The feelings that Emma and Dexter have for one another linger, but they cannot order them to be with one another for the next several years.

The tragic is also typical among Emma and Dexter. They are truly two normal kids who want to grow up and do wonderful things with their lives, but that is also the tragedy: youthful dreams are immeasurable and uncontainable. The reader, no matter what age, will sympathize with the aspirations of Emma and Dexter.

While Emma attempts to get her career underfoot, Dexter spends the next year traveling the world and chasing girls, ultimately ending up in Rome. His relationship with his parents seems to be slightly fractious, as they press Dexter to commit to something and to get his life on track. But Dexter is still drifting, still searching for something -but what, he doesn't know yet.

Emma, meanwhile, failing to achieve all of her dreams, believes she is already a failure. Immediately, she has given up on herself and her dreams, believing that her life has come to nothing. Just as quickly as young adults can dream about the stars, so too do they fall as quickly. As Dexter continues to travel over the next few years, he and Emma continue meeting up; they are growing apart, and they are growing closer as well. Eventually, both Emma and Dexter end up settling for two jobs. Emma's can be considered normal and mainstream -a teacher- while Dexter ends up hosting a popular late-night television show. With that show come the fame and wealth and popularity that Dexter is craving, but his dependency on drugs and alcohol put his reputation in danger from the first show.

While Dexter is struggling to get his bearings straight, he looks around at his former classmates, such as Callum, who are becoming successes in their own right. Callum, for example, doesn't do drugs or drink, and he has made a small fortune refurbishing computers. Hardwork and determination have paid off for Callum. It is a model for Dexter, but Dexter rejects it in favor of pleasurable and quick pursuits, for he has the stars within reach.

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(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)
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