The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson

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The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Nicholson's Sussex based ensemble book is superbly entertaining and looks at the world of lust, broken dreams and vulnerability amongst middle aged, middle class Home Counties residents.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-849161954

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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, himself 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 issue that their lives don't really look like how 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.

Our thanks to the kind people at Quercus for sending us a copy of this book."

If this is your first experience of this author, you will undoubtedly want more, so check out All the Hopeful Lovers by William Nicholson to start with. For more of the upper classes behaving badly, then look no further than Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn.

Buy The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson at

Buy The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson at


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