I find this book very analogous to "Eat, Pray, Love." I really enjoyed the writing style of the book, but ultimately the book fell apart for me. I assume that this writer is the Nicholas Sparks of Britain. Being British, of course he's much more erudite and funny, but the feel of this book is the same as his American counterpart: high-brow popular romance that you're not too embarrassed to be seen with. Scratch that. I would never read a Nicholas Sparks book in public. I would have no problem reading David Nicholls on the subway. Again, a smart, engaging book that unfortunately is without a heart.
I'm not going to talk about the ending, because it seems to me that by the time I had reached the ending I was up to my eyeballs in disenchantment, but suffice it to say, David, what in the HELL were you thinking? Did you think this would elevate it to literature light? Catapult it out of clever romance into something less cheesy? I'm really curious as to your motivation.
Anyway, this is the story of Emma and Dexter and their twenty-year friendship. It might have been a little more ambitious if Emma had been the wanker and Dexter the decent one, but why quibble at this point. There's a nice plot device where we see these two and where they are in their respective lives every St. Swithin's Day. The major problem is that Dexter is too much of an asshole that Emma's love for him starts to undermine her character. She's presented as someone whose integrity is essentially Dexter's port in a storm, and although she cuts him loose at various points in their friendship, these seem like life-saving maneuvers on her part, not kicking his shallow ass to the curb maneuvers. This continuously undercuts HER characterization. She has a series of her own slightly unethical relationships, which I suppose are supposed to humanize her, but if she's willing to sleep with her boss, then why isn't she willing to compromise herself with Dexter who she's very much in love with? I don't understand.
The reader becomes very invested in these characters as the novel moves forward over the years, although Dexter's marriage is something of a cypher, as is Emma's transformation to best-selling author. All of a sudden Emma is chic just like Dexter suddenly falls in love with an ice maiden. These transitions are jarring, but I sort of went with it, but then as the ending unfolded I really resented them. Rather like eating a cookie that I thought was okay at the time, but then realized that it gave me a stomach ache thirty minutes later.
We do not understand why Emma continues to love Dexter until a series of scenes at the very end of the novel. Again, I don't quite understand the motivation of tacking this on at the very end. Because by this point, we STILL don't like Dexter and that dislike isn't dislodged by the touching scenes at the end. It's a little too little and far too late.