The Couch Surfer: 'One Day looks like the sort of book you'd only buy at the airport. It's not'

Tim Walker: I blubbed. In fact, as time goes on, I find myself welling up more frequently than ever, or at least since I was a toddler and thought it might get me sweets

I don't often find myself awake at one in the morning with big fat girly-man tears rolling down my cheeks.

No, honestly, I don't. Not yet. But the last 40 pages of David Nicholls' novel One Day, which I pushed on through one school-night last week, were almost unbearably moving. Maybe it was the alcohol from earlier in the evening; maybe I need to start wearing spectacles; or maybe I was just tired (it was one in the morning, after all). But I blubbed. In fact, as time goes on, I find myself welling up more frequently than ever, or at least since I was a toddler and thought it might get me sweets.

Nicholls' first book was Starter For 10, a university romcom that was made into a movie starring James McAvoy. He's a purveyor of what appears to be chick-lit for chaps: "dick-lit". One Day is the story of Dexter and Emma, who cop off on their graduation day – St Swithin's Day, 1988, to be precise. Each successive chapter is set on the same date, every year, for the following 20 years, as Dex and Em move in and out and back in to each other's lives again. The structure sounds pat, the premise populist. The cover is neat and cleverly designed, with a complimentary quote from Tony Parsons at the bottom. It looks like the sort of book you'd expect to buy only at the airport before a long flight.

Yet the characters (both media types who drift to the middle-middle class from the upper-middle [Dex] and the lower-middle [Em] during the New Labour years) get whisked up in the social currents of the times, from the tail end of Thatcherism to the Iraq War. And onto this historical backdrop Nicholls draws a funny, warm and wise portrait of quarter-life, full of all the joys, compromises and disappointments of growing up.

As the decades accumulate, and as the distance between the young Dex and Em and the less-young Dex and Em increases, they come to better understand their own feelings – happiness, loneliness, love – and no doubt readers will appreciate it more the closer to 40 they are. Buy it for an appropriate family member (preferably a male one) for Christmas, leave them alone in a room with the book and a bottle of brandy. I defy them to keep their eyes dry.

Are we more susceptible to the emotional manipulation of art as we grow up, or merely less embarrassed to feel than we were as teenagers? I seem to have stumbled into a hinterland of previously uncharted emotion somewhere in my mid-20s. In her new collection of essays, Changing My Mind, the preternaturally precocious Zadie Smith admits weeping at a novel – a serious, worthy one about race and gender, at that – when she was just 14. Perhaps moments of fictional feeling simply resonate more strongly with your own experience the more mature you get.

Sometimes the tears are relatively meaningless: I cried at The Queen, but only because I was deeply hungover. I emerged from Avatar red-eyed, but only thanks to the £16.50 cover charge and the strain placed on my retinas by almost three hours of IMAX 3D. I don't cry at the merely sad; Holocaust movies often leave me cold. I cry instead at the bittersweet: at The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The bit at the end of Good Will Hunting when Ben Affleck knocks on the door and Matt Damon isn't there. The bit in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when Kevin Costner finds out Christian Slater is his brother.

Watching films on planes is especially dangerous; my mild fear of flying must make me fragile. I once saw Walk the Line and Pride and Prejudice back-to-back on the way home from New York and went through a whole Kleenex pocket pack. I'm fortunate that a friend gave me One Day, otherwise I may indeed have picked it up at some notional airport and gone on to regret it at 30,000 feet.

This is only going to get worse. Dexter and Emma are a good 10 years older than me before their story ends, and their emotional journey towards contemplative, melancholy middle-age continues on the same trajectory. They weep a lot more in the Noughties than the Nineties. If one of this newspaper's elder statesmen is to be believed, soon it won't just be narrative works – books, plays, films – that undam my tear ducts. It'll be lines from Larkin poems, the reds in a Rothko canvas, Coldplay songs, even cricket matches. Apparently, as and when I have children, the mere word "little" will set me off. I'll be standing in the freezer aisle at Tesco, sobbing uncontrollably over the petits pois. "They're just... *sniffs* so small!"

Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

books
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Bell in the new BBC series Posh People: Inside Tatler

Review: Posh journalists just can't get enough of each other

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran