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  • Written by William Nicholson
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  • Written by William Nicholson
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On Sale: July 05, 2011
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-56947-955-1
Published by : Soho Press Soho Press
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

When Belinda discovers her husband is having
an affair, her world is turned upside down;
she’s furious, hurt, and bent on evening the
score. But Belinda isn’t the only one in her
affluent suburban neighborhood suffering
the indignities and disappointments of middle
life. Instead of resting comfortably in the
glow of earlier good decisions, she and her
neighbors have just as much angst as they did
in their twenties, even if the drama is buried
under accreting layers of everyday life.

One of Belinda’s friends fears her own
husband is having an affair. But when she finds
out there’s no other woman—that he’s found
God instead—this, to her, is the biggest betrayal.
A renowned artist, near death, is convinced
that his entire life has been a waste. And a
schoolteacher, upon achieving his dream of
selling a screenplay to Hollywood, finds himself
buffeted by the maddening whims of the
studio execs (who are no longer looking for a
serious drama, but a low-brow comedy about
a talking dog).

And as the grownups in this searching,
beautifully told story try to claw back the
happiness that has slipped away, two college
kids who believed they’d never find love discover
a glimmer of hope.

Excerpt

1

‘Don’t you find,’ says Belinda, widening her blue eyes at Laura
and wrinkling her pretty little nose, ‘even though you’re over
fifty and married and da-de-da, don’t you sometimes feel this
overwhelming urge to, oh, you know – do it with someone else?’

Laura laughs and shakes her head, not disagreeing.

‘Doesn’t everyone?’ she says.

They’re sharing an early lunch, sitting at the end table of the
restaurant called the Real Eating Company, by the glass doors
onto the terrace, which is deserted on this cold December day.
The nearest other diners are three tables away, but even so Laura
keeps her voice down, hoping Belinda too will lower her voice.

‘It’s not like I’m dead yet,’ says Belinda. ‘I’m not so bad for
my age.’

‘You look fabulous, Belinda.’ Laura is happy to offer the ex -
pected praise. ‘You know you do.’

Impossible to be jealous of Belinda, she’s so transparent in all
her needs. Yes, she’s pretty, with her chipmunk face and her limpid
eyes and that bob of silky-soft blonde hair that you want to reach
out and stroke. And she’s kept her figure, slight as a girl, a boy
almost. But with it all there’s a generosity, a way of seeming to
say, I’m pretty for you, it’s my contribution, enjoy me. So when
she calls and says she’s having a crisis and let’s do lunch, using
those very words as if she’s a New York businesswoman when
as far as anyone knows she does nothing at all, Laura finds herself
saying yes.

Belinda Redknapp is the least likely of all the school mothers
from the old Underhill days to be her friend, but Laura has always
had a sneaking admiration for her. In her Donna Karan jeans and
her cashmere tops, shamelessly calling out for admiration, naively
delighted by compliments, she’s like a naked version of all of
them: the school mothers who pretend not to care any more,
who are too busy and too married and too grown-up to gaze at
themselves in mirrors. When Laura’s children Jack and Carrie
were little Belinda was known as the ‘yellow mummy’ because
of her blonde hair, and more than that, because of the glow of
fine grooming that shone about her like a golden aureole. But
who’s laughing now? There’s something courageous, even magnifi -
cent, in her refusal to surrender to the march of time.

Belinda’s crisis turns out to be the imminent homecoming of
her daughter Chloe.

‘I adore Chloe,’ she says, pouring herself a third glass of Pinot
Grigio. ‘But she’s so like me when I was her age. Prettier really.
It makes me feel like an aged crone. I never mind about my wrinkles
until Chloe comes home. Then I want to die.’

Chloe is nineteen. Laura thinks of her own daughter Carrie,
just seventeen and going through an awkward phase. Whatever
you say to her she takes it the wrong way. Tell her she’s pretty
and she says, ‘Just forget it, okay?’

‘That’s your crisis? Chloe coming home?’

‘She has boys climbing all over her, Laura. How’s that supposed
to make me feel?’

‘Happy. Proud.’

But even as she says the words Laura knows they’re pomposities.
Worse, falsehoods.

‘I’m jealous!’ cries Belinda. ‘I can’t help it! I want to be young
again!’

Don’t we all. But only Belinda says it aloud.

‘I swear to you, Laura, I feel no different to when I was Chloe’s
age. I remember how I’d walk down the street and the men’s
heads would turn, and I’d feel their eyes on me, like, oh, you
know, like I was Julia Roberts.’

‘But you wouldn’t want to be nineteen again.’

‘I would! I would! I loved it!’ She puts her fingers to her face
and pulls at the skin to smooth out the wrinkles. ‘Do you think
I should get some work done?’

‘What does Tom say?’

Tom her husband, a plastic surgeon.

‘Oh, Tom. He just says I’m beautiful the way I am.’

‘That’s sweet of him.’

‘It isn’t sweet at all. He doesn’t want to give up a paid job to
do work on me for nothing.’

‘Oh, come on, Belinda.’

‘Oh, I suppose Tom would do it if I really wanted it. Actually
he is very sweet. I wouldn’t hurt him for the world.’

‘Why should you hurt him?’

‘Oh, you know.’ She picks up the menu. ‘I’m going to have
a crème brûlée. Normally I’m careful about what I eat, but right
now I feel what the hell.’

She waves to the young waiter, who has a ponytail and a tight
waistcoat like a bullfighter. When he comes over she puts one
hand on his arm as if to detain him, and gives him the full force
of her beautiful eyes.

‘Do you think it would be too evil of me to have a crème
brûlée?’

‘No problem,’ says the waiter. ‘I’ll take these plates if you’re
finished with them.’

Laura watches with amusement. Pours herself the last of the
wine. They’re splitting the bill, she deserves her share.

Belinda pulls a face.

‘Not a flicker,’ she says. ‘See what I mean?’

‘He’s probably gay.’

‘Oh yes.’ Belinda cheers up. ‘I forgot about that.’

‘So when does Chloe come home?’

‘I’m supposed to meet her train just before five.’

‘Supposed to?’

‘Well, I will, of course.’ She lets out a long sigh. ‘What’s so
unfair is I’m so much better at sex than I was when I was young,
and I have so much less of it.’

‘Are you sure you want to tell me this?’ says Laura. Belinda’s
a little drunk.

‘Isn’t it the same for you? Don’t you have less sex now than
when you were young? I thought it happened to everyone.’

‘Yes. I suppose it does.’

‘I was always up for it, but to be honest with you I didn’t really
get much out of it. You know how it was. You did it for them.’

Them. The boys. The men.

‘It’s different now.’ She wrinkles her brow, puzzling over the
poor arranging of it all. ‘I really like it now. And all I’ve got is
Tom.’

‘Is it that bad?’

‘No, not really. Tom’s so sweet to me I’d never do anything
to hurt him.’

‘That’s the second time you’ve said that.’

‘Oh, God, is it?’ She shoots Laura a quick fearful look as if
she’s been caught in the act. ‘It’s all Chloe’s fault, coming home
like this. You know I only say these things. I’d never actually do
anything. Somehow it helps to say it. Do you think I’m a terrible
slag?’

‘No,’ says Laura. ‘You’re not saying anything the rest of us
aren’t thinking.’

Grateful, Belinda takes Laura’s hand in hers across the table.

Like a child cadging for love.

‘You’re wonderful, Laura. Do you know that? And you’re so
beautiful.’

No higher praise coming from Belinda. But the compliment
and the caress both have the same object. Look at me. Listen to
me. Love me.

‘It’s a bugger, this getting older.’

Laura’s about to agree, or to let her silence presume assent out
of habitual politeness, when she realizes she doesn’t share Belinda’s
regrets. This is a surprise.

‘No, actually. No, I don’t agree. I like being the age I am better.
I don’t want to be young again.’

‘Really?’ Belinda is astonished. ‘How extraordinary.’

‘I was always so anxious when I was young. I don’t think I
really enjoyed my youth at all.’

‘Really?’ says Belinda again, visibly struggling to credit what
she hears. ‘I wasn’t anxious at all, not as far as I remember. Tom
was anxious. I remember that.’

Her face creases into a smile.

‘The first time Tom stayed the night with me I couldn’t get
him to believe I wanted it. He was so shy. I had to pretend to
be cold. Come over here, Tom. Sit by me and keep me warm.’
She laughs out loud at the memory. ‘The wonder on his face as
he crossed the room. Christ, that must be over twenty-five years
ago now. And you know, I knew right away he’d be a good bet.’

Laura thinks about Henry. She could say the same thing. Funny
how you just know. Maybe it’s a matter of timing.

‘How could you tell?’ she says.

‘God knows. I just knew. I remember thinking, He’ll do.’ She
bursts into laughter. ‘Christ, that sounds terrible. Like I’m trying
on a cardigan.’

‘No. I know what you mean.’

And Laura does know what Belinda means. It’s all about the
right fit. Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.

‘Tom used to be so funny,’ Belinda says. ‘He’d say these things
in this really straight voice, talking about himself as if he was a
clinical case. Like, he’d say, “The patient is not responding.” Or,
“Failure of motor coordination due to excess nervous stimulus.”
He was always suffering from excess nervous stimulus. It meant
he’d got a hard-on.’

Belinda’s crème brûlée arrives. She speaks as she eats, so as not
to notice she’s eating.

‘I used to think I married Tom because it just seemed the
obvious thing to do. You know, without actually being in love
with him. But when I look back, it was love. Just not that
dangerous on-edge sort of love. Just as well, really. You can’t be
on edge for twenty-four years.’

‘No. I suppose not.’

Laura pictures Belinda’s husband: a middling sort of man, softfaced,
eager to please. Bald, of course, as they all seem to be these
days.

‘But the thing is,’ says Belinda, ‘soon it’ll be too late.’

She’s wriggling about in her seat.

‘You have got it bad,’ says Laura.

‘I just can’t stop thinking about it. That’s all it is, a fantasy in
my head. I’d never do anything. But it won’t go away.’

Laura realizes that Belinda is wanting to make a kind of confession.

‘Is this fantasy about someone in particular?’

‘Well …’ Belinda bursts into laughter once more, and then
actually blushes. ‘There was this boy I had a crush on when I
was seventeen. He was so gorgeous, and he liked me, you know?
But I was going out with his best friend. Anyway, there was this
one evening when I was round at Kenny’s place and Dom wasn’t
there—’

‘Hey! I’m lost already. Which is which?’

‘Dom was my boyfriend. Kenny was this quiet lean gorgeous
boy. Jimmy Kennaway. Everyone called him Kenny. We were
just hanging out, talking, waiting for Dom, and then Dom called
and said he couldn’t make it, his car needed fixing. Dom was the
one with the car. So Kenny said, Let’s go and look at the sunset.
That’s all we did. Went out into the back garden and watched
the sky. We stood on this little patio and watched the sky, and
after a bit I held his hand. Then he turned and looked at me.
Then we kissed.’

‘Jesus, Belinda. I’m getting goose pimples.’

‘That was all. We never spoke about it, not ever. Dom and me
broke up a few months later, but Kenny was with someone else,
and that was it. Except I’ve often wondered. Maybe Kenny was
the one. Except he wasn’t, of course.’

‘What happened to him?’

‘Oh, he’s married. He’s some kind of lawyer, lives in
Wandsworth.’ She blushes again. ‘Henderson Road.’

‘Belinda! Are you stalking him?’

‘No. It’s only a fantasy. I mean, one kiss. It’s ridiculous. Only
I have this feeling inside, it churns me up. Did you know all the
surveys say women have their best sex in their forties and fifties?
It something to do with oestrogen levels. You know the most
common age for women to have affairs? Forty-five. That means
I’m way overdue. I’m good now, Laura, I’m great, I’m never
going to get any better. It’s all downhill from here. And Tom –
darling Tom – let’s just say, Tom is past his peak. But I’d never
actually do anything …’

She fades away, with a lift of her shoulders. But her eyes go
on resting on Laura, waiting for a response. Laura wonders if
she’s asking for permission, or just for understanding. She thinks
of how it’s been for her and Henry.

‘Things can change,’ she says.

‘Do you mean Tom could try Viagra?’

‘Well, no, I wasn’t thinking of that. But why not?’

‘I don’t know how to raise the subject. Men are sensitive about
that sort of thing.’

‘He’d probably be relieved if you did raise the subject. I expect
it bothers him as much as it does you.’

‘Yes. Maybe.’ Belinda sounds unconvinced. ‘He works so hard.
He gets so tired. I don’t want to make things harder for him. Oh,
well. I’m sure I’ll survive. I’ll ask Chloe to keep the noise down.’

‘What noise? Oh, that.’

‘Is Henry still working with Aidan Massey?’

‘Yes. They have a production company together.’

A wistful gaze from Belinda.

‘I wouldn’t say no if Aidan Massey wanted a quick poke.’

‘From what Henry tells me, Aidan Massey likes them young.’

‘Honestly. Men. When are they going to get it? Women get
better as they grow older.’

Her eyes fall on the empty ramekin before her.

‘Did I really eat a whole crème brûlée? I must be having a
breakdown.’

They come out of the restaurant into the winter sunshine of
Cliffe High Street.

‘I remember when this was a garden shop,’ says Laura, looking
back into the restaurant.

‘Oh, yes,’ says Belinda. ‘So it was. What was it called?’

‘Elphicks.’

‘I remember buying Christmas decorations there. Chloe was
wearing that little powder-blue coat with the buttons. She must
have been about four.’

The memory staggers her.

‘She was simply adorable. I was so proud of her.’

‘There you are, then,’ says Laura. ‘Not such a terrible crisis
after all.’

‘So have you got Jack home yet?’

A little late in the day Belinda has realized that she should
show some interest in Laura’s children.

‘He’s been home for ever. The Cambridge terms are so short.’

‘How does he like it there?’

‘It’s fine, as far as I can tell. He has a sweet girlfriend.’

‘Not pretty, then?’

‘Oh, Belinda. I didn’t say that. Hannah’s lovely.’

‘Not that it matters. Beauty isn’t everything. Just as well, given
the sneaky way it runs out on you when you’re not looking.’
She glances at her reflection in the side window of a parked car.
‘But the party’s not over yet. My clock’s still ticking.’

The sound of piped carols drifts out onto the street as shoppers
come and go through the glass doors of Woolworth’s on the
far side. Signs in the windows say BIGGEST EVER SALE.

‘Isn’t it terrible about Woolworth’s?’ says Belinda. ‘Who’d have
ever thought they’d go bust?’
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

William Nicholson grew up in Sussex and was educated at Downside School and Christ’s College, Cambridge. His plays for television include Shadowlands and Life Story, both of which won the BAFTA Best Television Drama award of their year.

His first play, an adaptation of Shadowlands for stage, was Evening Standard’s Best Play of 1990. He was co-writer on the film Gladiator. He is married with three children and lives in Sussex.

I Could Love You is William Nicholson's second novel published by Soho Press, and it follows the characters developed in his previous novel, The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life.

Mark Thwaite: What gave you the initial idea for I Could Love You?
William Nicholson: Having created a group of characters in The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life I realized I wanted to follow their development through time.
Mark Thwaite: Why did you want to tell this particular story?
William Nicholson: I’ve been wanting for some time to tell the story of an adulterous affair from all three points of view – the adulterer, the wife, the mistress. Why would a happily married men want sex with another woman? As a male writer who is also obsessed with so-called women’s issues (love, marriage, domesticity, children) I wanted to tackle that apparent puzzle.
Mark Thwaite: Your novel is about many things but the central theme is fidelity within marriage. Do you think fidelity is essential within a committed relationship such as marriage?
William Nicholson: I think fidelity is the necessary basis for trust within a marriage. However, sometimes a partner breaks that trust. This is serious, but I would suggest that it doesn’t have to be terminal.
Mark Thwaite: This novel and its prequel The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life are unusual for their large casts of diverse characters, from children to old people. Why do you choose this method of narration?
William Nicholson: It began with the core idea behind the first novel, which is that we very rarely understand what’s going on inside other people, and so misread their responses. To demonstrate this I set about showing a chain of small actions, ricocheting through a group of people, all unaware of what was really going on. This is the kind of insight that can only be undertaken with the novel, which more than any other form allows you to enter the minds of characters.
Mark Thwaite: What was the most difficult aspect of writing I Could Love You and how did you get over it?
William Nicholson: The hardest part for me is always placing my characters in their jobs. It sounds like a minor matter, given that I’m primarily interested in their love lives. But people’s work life affects them and forms them, and I want very much to present my characters in the round. This means trying to understand what it’s like to be, say, a plastic surgeon; and finding it’s not at all what I thought. This forces me to change my preconceptions, and my plans.
Mark Thwaite: How did you become a writer? Did you always want to be a writer?
William Nicholson: Always. It’s just taken time. My own path has been through television and film.
Mark Thwaite: Did you find your experience as a playwright and screen writer invaluable when you turned to fiction?
William Nicholson: Yes, I did. I wrote many novels before turning to TV and film, and they were over-analytical, and pretentious. My work in the screen world taught me to tell stories that people want to read.
Mark Thwaite: If you hadn’t become a writer, what do you think you’d be doing today?
William Nicholson: I suppose I’d still be a television producer.
Mark Thwaite: Do you do a lot of research for your novels?
William Nicholson: Yes, a very great deal. I try hard to make every smallest detail extremely accurate. All the date and place references are real. And of course, the background of every character has to be researched.
Mark Thwaite: How do you manage to write such believable women characters?
William Nicholson: I care very much about believability. This applies to all my characters, of course. With the women characters, I work in two ways. First, all my life I’ve made it my business to question my women friends closely about their experiences. This began out of a simple desire to understand women so I could get them to love me. It has matured since my youth into something much broader. I really am intrigued by the differences between men and women. It has been a lifelong interest, if not an obsession. Second, when I get to work on a particular female character, I try to find someone I know whose experience matches the character, and I do some specific research. For example, in All the Hopeful Lovers the character of Chloe, a promiscuous teenager, was not one I could be sure of getting right; so I spoke to the daughter of a friend of mine, who was willing to be open about her life.
Mark Thwaite: Do you have an idea in your mind of your ‘ideal’ reader?
Do you write with a specific audience/reader in mind?
William Nicholson: Not exactly. I suppose I write for the reader who is like me – endlessly curious about how people work.
Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite writer? And who is your least favourite?
William Nicholson: The writer I worship above all is Tolstoy. Not very original, but believe me, as a working novelist I am ceaselessly awestruck by his brilliance. Least favourite: any writer who thinks that how he writes is of more interest than what he writes about.
Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite fictional character and what is your favourite book?
William Nicholson: I’m not good on ‘favourites’. The minute I name a favourite I start to feel trapped and want to name an opposite. Variety, please.
Mark Thwaite: What is the last book you started but didn’t finish?
William Nicholson: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – actually I finished it, but I skipped a bit. It’s good, but not that good.
Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?
William Nicholson: Write every day. Show your work to others. Listen closely to criticism. Rewrite.
Mark Thwaite: What do you think of eBooks, online writing, blogs, fan-fiction etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?
William Nicholson: I don’t like reading books on a screen myself, but it’s fine with me if others like it. I have a website, with a question and answer facility, which I love. That’s about it.
Mark Thwaite: Are you optimistic about the future of books and reading?
William Nicholson: Yes, I am. All these technological developments change nothing at the heart of the enterprise, which is the sharing of powerful stories, insight into human nature, and wisdom. Maybe we’re emerging from a historical period that saw very large numbers of people reading books; maybe we’re heading back to a time when book reading is the preserve of a minority; but I see nothing to lament in that. What matters is the quality of the works. I suspect very few writers from now on will be able to make a living out of writing books alone; but that won’t stop wonderful books being written, and finding grateful readers.
Mark Thwaite: Anything else you would like to say?
William Nicholson: I hope I live long enough to write the truly great work I have in me. Maybe it’s the next book.

Praise

Praise

“A bittersweet update of Love Actually… Nicholson adds flashes of intensity and wisdom to the cozy mix.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Screenwriter (Gladiator) and novelist Nicholson follows up The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life with this sharp ensemble tale of suburban English drama, missed connections, intersecting fates, and good old-fashioned miscommunication… It's a busy story with buckets of desire, unrequited love, disillusionment, growing pains, and strained friendships—and Nicholson juggles all of it with ease, cracking wise and counterbalancing the raw emotion with smart, crisp insight and lacerating wit, giving this the feel of a Nick Hornby novel with a little more teeth.”—Publishers Weekly


  • I Could Love You by William Nicholson
  • July 05, 2011
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Soho Press
  • $25.00
  • 9781569479544

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