To what extent do Emma’s thoughts and assumptions about Dexter [pp. 5-6] andDexter’s sketch of Emma [pp. 8-9] rely on facile stereotypes they each harbor? In what ways do they embody more measured reflections? How accurate are theirassessments? Does their initial encounter make the reader more sympathetic to one of the characters? In what ways might the reader’s gender, experiences, and prejudicesaffect their feelings about Emma and Dexter?
In the movie version, how do the lead actors (Anne Hathaway as Emma and JimSturgess as Dexter) convey the nature of their characters in these introductory scenes,aided by David Nicholls’ screenwriting?
What determines the path Emma follows in her post-university years? Is Emma’sexplanation of why she ended up working at the tacky Mexican restaurant –“there was a recession on and people were clinging to their jobs... the government had endedstudent grants” [p. 56] –honest? Have circumstances and “the city defeated her” or isshe responsible for her own plight?
In his unsent letter Dexter writes, “I think you’re scared of being happy... that youactually get a kick out of being disappointed and under-achieving, because it’seasier...” [p. 42]. How do Dexter’s insights into Emma compare to her own? Is he moreperceptive about her than he is about himself? Does Emma underestimate her talentsand potential? Despite its carefree tone, does Dexter’s letter betray certain doubts ormisgivings about himself?
Does Dexter’s meteoric rise in television change the fundamental dynamics betweenDexter and Emma? What aspects of their relationship remain unchanged? Whatinfluences the things they say and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t say,during their afternoon on Primrose Hill [p. 60-72]? Were you surprised to find themvacationing together in Greece the following year? Who is more aware of –and affectedby –the sexual tensions and temptations they both experience?
With the movie’s shift of the vacation locale to Dinard, France, how does directorLone Scherfig mine the full beauty and romantic tension of the sequences there?
Is Dexter’s idle vision of his future [p. 9] realized during “the late twenties” (chapterssix through nine)? In what ways is the actuality of his life an ironic comment onhis expectations? Does he act in ways that undermine his happiness? Discuss, forexample, his visit to his parents [pp. 120-135]; his humiliating debut on Late-NightLock-In [pp. 176-7]; his hostile, crude manner at dinner with Emma [pp. 205-210];and his glib excuses and rationalizations for his actions [p.190]. What glimpses are thereof his more vulnerable side? Do they make him a more appealing character?
How, in the movie, is actor Jim Sturgess able to maintain our empathy for Dexter?
About This Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for furtherreading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussionof
by David Nicholls. “A wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate, and often unbearably sad”(The Times),
is a worldwide bestseller. The movieversion, with a screenplay by the author and directed by LoneScherfig (“An Education”), and starring Anne Hathaway (Emma)and Jim Sturgess (Dexter), will be in theaters this July.
About This Book
Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, casual acquaintances duringtheir university years, spend graduation night together. It’s July 15, 1988, and their futures are up in the air. Dexter, thehandsome, confident son of a well-to-do family, knows only thathe wants “to be successful... to live life to the extreme, but withoutany mess or complications” [p. 9]. Emma is determined to stay true to her left-leaning passions and ideals though she has littleidea of how she’ll do it. They part the next day with vaguepromises to keep in touch as Dexter sets off to travel the worldand Emma returns to her working-class family in Leeds to figureout what she’ll do next. Over the next twenty years, they’ll think about each other, sometimes to meet and reignite a relationshipthat neither can give up nor explain.
revisits Dexter and Emma every year on the anniversary of their first night together. Each July 15th becomes a snapshot of a particular time and place, offering an irresistible and oftenhilarious chronicle of the lovers they acquire, the careers they pursue, the culture that influences them, and the opportunitiesthey embrace or squander. As their stories unfold, David Nichollsbrilliantly explores the interplay of character and fate that shapeour lives.