Dex and Em. Em and Dex.
Dexter and Emma have a sort of one night stand on the night of their university graduation. They met a few years before but until this night, St. Swithin’s Day, July 15th 1998, they haven’t really connected. They talk for hours, go on a hike the morning after, but don’t actually sleep together or actually date after that. Dex is about to travel around the world for a year or two and Em isn’t sure what she’s going to do with her double first in English and History, but she is going to change the world, that’s for sure.
The way I understood the premise before starting the book was that Dexter and Emma only meet on this one day each year, which seems like a strange basis for a relationship. However, that’s not true. They become close friends, the kind that never got together romantically, but make you wonder why not. We see them through Emma’s abysmal early career attempts with a theatre collective and a terrible Mexican restaurant. We follow Dex as he travels around the world and ends up presenting terrible late night television. We see their other relationships, love and otherwise. Some years they are together on St. Swithin’s Day, sometimes they couldn’t be further apart emotionally and physically.
The point of fiction is to give the reader an experience, to put them in the shoes or see through the lens of someone else. Because of that, it’s hard to fault Nicholls for the way he manipulates the reader. It seems clear from the outset that the story is going to follow the classic rom-com arc–boy meets girl, boy runs away from girl, boy calls girl when he is totally shitfaced, etc., etc., happily ever after. That’s not what actually ends up happening, unfortunately. I still really enjoyed the book as a whole, but I think my cat might have thought I was losing it at the end, what with the crying.