I've just finished reading David Nicholls' 'One Day' which I liked a lot. It didn't look quite as good on the tube as, say, Satre or Proust, but it did look a lot more believable. It's full of humour, pathos, emotion and class-related awkwardness. I really liked the book, and it was about as British as 'Friends' is American. I think that the 'cleverness' of the format (catching up with the main protagonists on the same day over a twenty year period) is actually a bit limiting, and I don't think that this gimick is necessary, but I can't remember the last time that I read a book quite so quickly, and felt as though I knew (and cared about) the characters quite so much. It's a bit disappointing that the book has to be turned into a film; the film serves little purpose, save to pander to those with little or no imagination. If the characters are as you imagined, it's just like reading the book again, and if they're nothing like you imagined, well that's just irritating.
It's the characters in any book or film that make it stand out. Getting you to care about these fictional people is a large part of the battle. The characters in 'One Day' were drawn in 3D, and when they weren't, that was clearly deliberate, almost as a way of making the key characters stand out. One of the reasons that I dislike soaps so much is that every character exists completely in 2D, and displays such a limited range of emotions at any one time as to represent nothing but cariacature. 'One Day' is about life, chance, fate, friendship and love, and despite the condensing of a year into a day in every chapter, it's clear that all of these occur in parallel, not in series.
One of the overriding thoughts I had upon finishing the book was about how unhappy the characters seemed for much of the time, and how surface happiness often masked some kind of inner turmoil. I'm sure this isn't what I was supposed to be left with, but there you go: lots of money or too little money, hectic social life or no social life, relationship or single life, unrealised ambition or unfulfilling present: it didn't seem to matter which stage we were at, there was always something gnawing away at our heroes, making sure that true happiness remained just out of reach. And maybe this is true to life; maybe we can't ever be 100% blissfully happy at any one time; there's always things going that worry us, things that could be better, and even if it were possible to attain a state of happy nirvana, wouldn't that just make us all too aware that we were at the top of the mountain, with only one way to go?
I actually find this thought that unobtainable (complete) happiness rather comforting, and it does take the pressure off somewhat. If it's never possible to be 100% happy, it should never be possible to be 100% sad: they're just opposite sides of the same coin, and there's no one without the other. No matter how rough things get, you can always grab hold of lots of happy thoughts, of things that are going well, just like golden tickets (I'm thinking more Crystal Dome than Wonka here). Each day should be a nice mix of sad and happy thoughts, of moments of elation and moments of despair (ok, maybe that's a bit strong for every day, but you get the idea). It's these extremes of emotion that remind us that we're human, that remind us that we're alive. No-one wants to hang around the person who's a perpetual misery, whose glass is always half-empty, but there's a reason why the word 'grinning' is often followed by the word 'idiot', and anyone who claims to be happy all the time maybe just hasn't got a particularly well developed sense of emotion.
So go forth, rejoice and be happy. Or sad. Just try and make sure they exist in approximately equal measure.