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on 10 February 2012
I read this with some anticipation and was greatly disappointed. Far from being the subtle and insightful novel the critics had puffed it up to be it was instead an entirely predictable and ultimately boring and derivative snapshot of life in the home counties. I can only assume that those who reviewed this so well did so because these are the kinds of lives they live and thus they could at least derive some pleasure from recognition. For the rest of us who don't have husbands who are something in the media in London and who don't have lives so benign and empty that trivia can be so significant and time so vacant, this has no resonance at all. The reviews are unforgivable too in another entirely different sense: those who have praised this and made ludicrous comparisons with literatry greats from the past (Trollope? Proust?, etc) are being highly misleading. This is not literature on any level, it is not insightful, innovative, or even interesting. The central strand of a returned old flame (misleadingly emphasised on the cover) is entirely predictable and the resolution entirely pedestrian. Indeed anyone who has had an old flame come back into their lives (and who has not?) will have had exactly this conversation with themselves within the first ten minutes, seen immediately the issues on both sides, and moved quickly to the inevitable decision. It's a symptom of our age that these days everything is allegedly "brilliant" in the drive to shift copies. A moment's discrimination would be more than enough time to decide to put this back on the shelf where it belongs, unless of course what you are looking for is up-market tosh.
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on 4 June 2009
I did not get to half way and have no recall of what I have read. The writing style was ungrmamatical in places and did not please.
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on 8 September 2009
William Nicholson is a skilled writer. With this book he takes a variety of ordinary people and invokes what it is like to be in their skin. The stories are so well delivered and so intense in their feeling that this book is a remarkable reading experience.

Laura has received a letter from her first love, Nick, with whom she spent ten months as a young woman in her second year at university. But he broke their relationship off - he wasn't ready for the next step at that time, leaving Laura desolate. But Laura moved on eventually, though her experience left its scars. Now he wants to come back into her life. But she has changed. She has married Henry, a TV director and writer, and they have a son and daughter, Jack and Carrie.

In many ways, Nick and Laura's story is the least interesting, and sometimes dissolves into romantic cliché, but there are lots of more rewarding characters living in the same village - Liz, who has a young daughter, Alice, and is still in sexual thrall to her ex-husband; Alan Strachan, Alice and Jack's young teacher who writes plays but can't get them staged; the village rector who finds that he no longer believes in God but whose humility and serene patience is perhaps more honest and useful than any religious certainty; The inner lives of these and other people are explored even down to young Jack, who is under the spell of an older, charismatic friend, Toby, and Alice, who is being bullied. The result is a captivating novel that allows you to feel some of these anxieties from the inside. The reader is swept up in the motivations that emerge and even the least sympathetic of them is rendered with compassion and - yes - intensity. This is one of those novels that you can, for a time, live in. I found myself reluctant to reach the last page.
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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2012
At 42, Laura is leading a pleasant middle-class life in Sussex with her agreeable husband Henry and two children, when a letter from an old boyfriend knocks her sideways. In her student days she had loved this man, Nick, intensely and been rejected by him. Now he wants to meet. Laura is a bibliophile and is working on a collection at a nearby stately home whose owner hopes to find something of value that he can sell to keep the house up. In the course of her searches, she comes across some love letters written by the owner's father to a woman not his wife. She is tasked with tracking the woman down.

Meanwhile Henry, a TV producer, worries that his earning capacity is so much less than his contemporaries who went into finance, worries about supporting his wife and children properly, belittled by the knowledge that his in-laws sometimes sub them. He is also inclined to muse, in a harmless sort of way, about other women.

Alan Strachan, schoolmaster, longs for the letter from the BBC that will tell him his radio play has been accepted. He has an unexpected passion for Friends and a cunning technique for dealing with bullies. His neighbour, Marion, apparently a classic middle-class, middle-aged battered wife, has a crush on him, while convincing herself that it's the other way round. In his class is Alice, daughter of single parent Liz who works full time to support her small family.

The story flits between characters and, occasionally, into the past for Laura's time with Nick in their student days. The prose is beautiful, elegant, nuanced, original. Nicholson wisely sets his story at the turn of the millennium, at a quiet time before everything started to go so horribly wrong in the world, which allows him to focus, like Jane Austen, on a few families in a country village, two inches of ivory.

Nicholson writes in the voice of each character and differentiates them clearly, from the neurotic, semi-literate stream of consciousness of Marion, through Alan's angry bitterness at the failure of editors to recognise his genius; from Henry's internal road rage to the calm, ordered thoughts of Miles, the vicar who no longer believes. When one of the children is the viewpoint, the prose suddenly becomes very simple, almost Janet & John. Their stories are told in the present tense, apart from the flashbacks to Laura's student days, giving an immediacy. He is kind to his characters, allowing their fundamental decency to help them through the hard times. There is only one real casualty.

Nicholson is good on the changing English countryside where every farmhouse and barn is now inhabited by lawyers, bankers and people in the media. When two ramblers ask a genuine tenant farmer for a tour of his historic barn, he terrifies them with his ferocity.

If I have a criticism it's that so many characters are introduced in the first quarter of the book that it's not at first easy to keep everybody straight.

If only more novels combined such exquisite writing with the powers of a storyteller at the height of his creativity. I had heard of Nicholson but this was the first of his works I had read. It will not be the last.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 November 2012
I don't know how I missed The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life when it was published in 2009, but when it was followed over the next two or three years by a second and third book (All the Hopeful Lovers and The Golden Hour) the trilogy caught my attention.

When I eventually picked up this book this summer I found that I was staying up into the early hours to finish with its difficult marriages, unruly teens and assertive grand-parents who populate this beguiling saga of contemporary relationships.

The book is based in a fictional village near Lewes, the county town of East Sussex and anyone who knows the area will recognise the idyllic English setting inhabited by a mix of London commuters, local arts and crafts people, retired professionals and less well-off families struggling to survive in this prosperous land of Waitrose stores and private schools.

The book opens with a breakfast scene. Henry is a television director who is in the midst of fighting political battles over his latest project. The postman comes and Laura sees an envelope written in the unmistakeable hand-writing of Nick, a lover from years gone by, and postpones opening it until Henry has gone to catch a train. Will she respond to Nick's suggestion that they meet up to catch-up after a twenty year gap in their relationship?

Within a few pages we encounter other members of the cast - Liz who sits opposite Henry on the train (a single mother who seems unable to break from her manipulative ex-husband), Alan a teacher who has a private sexual routine perhaps unfitting for a teacher, Alan, a vicar who's pastoral concern for his congregation carries on despite his loss of faith and Marion, the unstable woman who dotes on him. The reader will interact with these and many other people over the next 384 pages (and a further two volumes if you care to).

Nicholson has the knack of getting behind the superficial events of his people's lives to describe motivation common to us all, and as I read this I recognised the struggles for personal integrity which underpin so many of our life-choices. Nicholson's people are above all "real", and as their underlying attitudes, anxieties and ambitions are laid before us, it is difficult not to identify with these characters and maybe to understand ourselves a little better.

I find that the mark of a good novel is when the people in the book live on and I experience a sense of loss when I turn the final page. Four months have passed since I read it and I still hanker after knowing what came next in the lives of this finely drawn cast who I became so involved with this summer.
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on 13 February 2017
this is an overlong book which might have improved by losing a third of its leghth but even so. it would not disguise the fact that ther e is no plot pitifully little characterisation. Suppose -an everyday tale of country folk would sum it up except The Archers got in first.

At the heart of it is Laura, husband Henry and her first love Nick who eappears after 20 years self imposed purdah and tries not so convincingly to lure her back to California

A whole endless jumble of others who have bit parts are the vicar who no longer believes, the suicidal divorccee who invented her husband, the vain and verysmall in stature TV presenter, the oh so young and gauche schoolmaster who aspires to be a playwright, the single mum who takes him to her bed (the few sex scenes in the book really are stomach turning) the mad dog- man aka horny handed very fertile son of toil and so on and interspersed with long tracts about iconoclasm and the changing economic role of the counryside plus an extended jaunt to Glyndebourne hus to reinforce the author';s cultural credentials

all of this mish-mash without much point or humour

olnly character who felt real to me was Jack, one of the children of the main protagonists but such a small relief in a load of turgid pretentious nonsense
only thing is that I now feel as if I will have to read another on of his booksto see whether that is as bad.- oh dear,,,,,,,,
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VINE VOICEon 17 September 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The title of this review is spoken by Henry, husband of Laura - she is billed by the sentences on the front cover of this book and by the summary on the back cover as the main protagonist. But this novel tells the story of so many more people than just her.
I really enjoyed this, what a good read. I hadn't read anything by this author before, but was attracted and intrigued by the synopsis and the title. The novel doesn't disappoint in living up to the title. It really does reaveal the secrets and the intensity of everyday people and their everyday lives.
We gain an insight into the lives of numerous characters living in a small village in the Sussex countryside, the action unfolding over six days in May 2000. Laura is contacted by the love of her life from her youth, and this stirs up conflicting feelings within her about her life now, married, two children, is she happy, how happy? As well as exploring her life, the dissatisfaction of her husband Henry with the direction his career has taken, and the traumas of their children Carrie and Jack, we meet various others and some of their lives touch the lives of others. These encounters are very well thought out, and I liked the interplay between the different people in the village.

I also liked how the author used different characters as the narrator of different chapters, so for one we would be inside Laura's head, then Henry's, even the children have their own subplots, from old lonely women to a young teacher aspiring to be a writer, to the rector who has questioned his faith but yet is seen as wise by so many of the villagers. This novel really explores the trials, disappointments, frustrations, anxieties, passions, and sadnesses that many of us carry around with us everyday. I enjoyed this opportunity to dip into these lives and I think I learned something from this novel. I wonder what happened to them all even!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 February 2012
William Nicholson's "The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life" is an ensemble story focussing predominantly on middle class and mainly middle age people living in a Sussex village. The cover of the book suggests that it is little more than a superior chic-lit style story of how Laura reacts when an ex-lover from her past appears from out of the blue to disrupt her marriage and two children, but while this is a central issue that runs throughout the book, this is only a small part of the story. It's far better than that might suggest.

Nicholson is also known for his television plays and film screen adaptions so it's not surprising that the strength of the book is in characterisation and dialogue. He offers up a wide range of fully believable characters residing in and around the village. In addition to Laura, there's her husband, a struggling TV director, their two young children who attend a local private school, along with Alice, whose single mother is a journalist who becomes interested in Alice's young teacher, a struggling writer. That's to name just a few of the characters.

Of course one of the inherent challenges to such a large cast is that it takes a bit of effort to get to know all these people but Nicholson skillfully weaves the stories together and it soon starts to feel that we know these people and the village they inhabit. Each has their own particular issue they are dealing with and as the title suggests, these are generally the problems of everyday life, but are none the less felt intensely at the time. It's a book that benefits from the reader initially devoting a chunk of time to get into.

In some ways it feels like a middle class reality TV show - "The Only Way is Sussex" perhaps. Many of the characters are firmly middle class - there's private schools, trips to Glyndebourne, careers in the media and even a Lord thrown in for good measure. It's the Home Counties in a nutshell.

What Nicholson is really looking at here is the reconciliation of the dreams of youth with the petty day-to-day problems of everyday life, and even if many of us would consider these people to be amongst the more privileged, they are still dealing with the issues that their lives don't really look like they would have imagined them. For Laura, this is embodied in the unexpected presence of ex-lover, Nick, who has arguably remained faithful to his dreams of youth but is no less unhappy for that.

The main attraction of this book is that it is highly entertaining. While most of the middle aged characters go through a satisfying emotional story arc during the ten days of the story and generally end up in a better place than when the book starts, the same cannot be said for the older residents in the village who are invariably sad characters, which isn't exactly an encouraging view. Most are lonely and depressing, and while this makes for interesting and often amusing characterisation, seems to suggest that only the current generation are able to reconcile these issues.

It's one of those rare books that exceeds the cover blurb. It's perceptive and intelligent but most of all, it's superbly entertaining.
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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2013
This book is much better than the synopsis would have you believe. It's much more than just a story about revisiting old loves and being tempted to contemplate another way of life and what might have been. Instead, Nicholson skilfully weaves a tale where the interconnections between the characters and their dilemmas work wonderfully well, and the coincidences actually work, even though they have been contrived for dramatic effect.

All the characters portrayed here come over as real people, people you are actually interested in reading about, which can be rare in this type of inward looking, angst-ridden storytelling. From the frustrated TV producer, the bored teacher, the lonely middle-aged woman, scared school children, angry farmer and deluded vicar, everyone here is trying to make sense of their place in the world and live a better, more rewarding life. As much a book about identity, sense of purpose and thwarted dreams, Nicholson combines these fairly universal dilemmas together in a really enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

If there is one small criticism to be made, it's that the middle-class, Sussex setting for a book about the chattering classes is unlikely to appeal to those who want their characters tackling more wordly matters, and some readers will think that the people written about here deserve the lives they lead. That said, it works better than so many other books that tackle ideas like this, and at times reminded me of an effective combination of the styles of Penelope Lively and Mark Haddon. Enjoyable and thoroughly recommended. The Kindle version translates to the e-book well, with no obvious typos or formatting errors to report. I'd certainly read another by this author.
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on 14 July 2013
This book is 'light' but extremely deep/You are happily married; suddenly a long-lost lover calls: would you be tempted?/For me, this book revolves around TWO major themes. 1: The inexplicable nature of attraction - what draws us to a partner - sometimes a circumstance that others can see is totally wrong for us but we are blind to. ('The heart has reasons that Reason know nothing of' etc. Pascall) and 2: Our need and desire of RECOGNITION/to be thought significant/a potent force/to be admired/to love and to be loved in return/the lengths we go to in order to achieve acceptance/and our fear of never achieving these basic aims, needs/of never being loved. (Hence my Nature Boy title, the last lines of which read, 'The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return'. Lyrics by Eden Ahbez)
The title may at first seem clumsy but I think is spot-on: 'Secret Intensity' = We each live in our own world. We know every bit of that experience, but only part of that experience can, or is allowed to be conveyed to others. 'Others' cannot know all of us, (if anything at all sometimes) while we in turn see only a tiny fraction of what others are - even our nearest and dearest, it simply isn't possible. ('Secret Intensity' is explained in a later page of the book)
The chapters are short/It is written 'Scenically', like a film. If, like me, you are a writer, you will soon discover that this book is a master-class in how to write. (as are books 2 and 3 of the trilogy)
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