When Belinda discovers her husband is having an affair, she’s furious, hurt, and bent on leveling the score. But Belinda isn’t the only one in her affluent suburban neighborhood suffering the indignities and disappointments of middle age. 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.
One of Belinda’s friends fears her own husband is unfaithful, too. 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 executives, who are no longer looking for a serious drama, but a low-brow comedy about a talking dog.
Yet, even 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 . . .
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'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 expected 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 magnificent, 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?'
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.'
'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, soft-faced, 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?'
'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?'CHAPTER 2
Jack strides up the Downs, past the old landfill site, past the beeches with the low curving branches they call the swing trees. This was always the family walk in the days of his childhood. He wants to go back in time, to be a child again, to be anywhere but here, now.
He walks up on the high tussocky sides of the track, above the chalk-slime ruts. From here he can gaze down on the scoops of land, furrowed by sheep trails, empty of all human life, that are for him the shapes of history itself. In such a grand perspective, what does it matter that Hannah, his first love, his only love, has left him?
It's a steep pull up to the summit, and there's a cold wind coming off the sea that makes his eyes water. At least he never came up here with her.
He stops just above the swing trees, and as they always did when walking as a family he seeks out the roofs of their home. At this time of year the bare trees no longer screen the red tile-hung walls. As he looks he thinks he can just make out his mother's car coming down the lane to the house. His mother now drives a Smart car. Jack was appalled when he first saw it.
'What was wrong with the Volvo?'
'It was fifteen years old, Jack. And we can't just go on guzzling petrol any more. We have to think of the planet.'
'So why do we heat our home like a sauna?'
Jack doesn't want his parents to change their lifestyle to save the planet. Half his year may now be spent away at university, but this house remains his primary world. He wants his parents to continue in their comfortable profligate ways, and maintain the family home as it's always been.
Hannah came to stay at raspberry-picking time. They all loved her, of course. Even Carrie. When was that, last July? You have to pick raspberries slowly. Look under the leaves where the dark red ones hang, the sweet ones, the ones that drop off the branch at a touch. The fingers gripping so lightly it's almost not a grip, more a caress, so as not to bruise the fruit. Standing there close together, fingers probing among the leaves, learning a slower, kinder habit of touch. Then she puts one to his lips, pushes it into his mouth.
Then later, in his room in college, she told him it was over. Weeks ago now, right at the start of term, nothing to make a big deal out of any more.
'It's the last thing I want to do,' she said, 'but it's the only honest thing I can do.'
He turns and tramps on up the Downs. His denim jacket is not proof against the cold, which he welcomes. At least he minds the cold. It's the not-minding that's so wearing. The flat summit before him now, and the concrete column of the trig point that he used never to be able to climb alone; always his father had to lift him up. Then one day when he was eight years old he did it all on his own. Beyond, the bare land slopes down to the sea.
On this dull day the sky is the colour of the sea and there's barely a horizon. The sea all sky or the sky all sea. The shrill cries of the gulls from far off over Seaford. Only when they're close do you realize how big they are. And those cruel beaks.
The evening they agreed to part was not as he had feared. All the tension between them melted away, and they were close in a manner they hadn't been able to achieve for weeks. Hannah cried and said she loved him. That was how he knew for sure that it was over.
Then there came some days that his memory has blanked. No appetite, no desire. Alone in his room, wincing, trying to duck the waves of misery. But it passes. Everything passes. What remains is a low-level dullness of spirit. Carrie says, 'Why's Jack always grumpy?'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Could Love You"
Copyright © 2011 William Nicholson.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
William Nicholson's novel is the second in a series of three set in Sussex, England. The first novel was The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life. I Could Love You will be followed by the third novel that will be published in November 2011, according to the author on his web page. I Could Love You is self-contained, but I recommend that the reader starts at the beginning of the series. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is well-structured with each chapter focusing on one of the main characters who provides the point of view. The writing style reminds me of Anthony Powell, Patrick Hamilton, and Simon Brett. A careful presentation of the English language allows the reader to experience immediately and clearly the thoughts and actions of the characters. The themes in the novel also remind me of the work of the British writers I mentioned and also the work of Henry James. A main theme is desire, the physical attraction of one person to another. When social context sets the standard, there are winners and losers in the ability to be desired. At first, the comforts and routines of social interaction seem easier and better for physically attractive individuals, and the apparently less appealing ones lag behind. The undesirables have a bag they keep adding to with little hurts and big disappointments that they must drag behind them as they venture out in the world looking to be desired. As the load grows, their progress slows until they no longer have the will to leave the house. If unchecked, the probability of a chance encounter with someone who could desire them dwindles to zero. The advantage is reversed when it comes to love. The undesirables are sometimes able to throw off their expectations and enter relationships with more true emotion (fear dominates) than the desirables. Then, astonishingly, they become more desirable than the physically attractive ones and offer reciprocal desire for their partners. Here is the platform for the realization that, miraculously, I Could Love You. This is not what friends and family are demanding but rather what each person must discover independently. The considerable risk, though, is that being an iconoclast can lead to social isolation without ever having an opportunity to feel desired. And, even when the time comes, there is always the possibility that the person cannot quite express true personal desires to another. Each of the main characters tries to find the truth in relationships by realizing the artificiality of social standards of desirability. Paradoxically, those who find the beginning of the truth independently must confirm it in being desired by another person. Those who act on desires created by popular social judgments experience the pain of missed or distorted love. I am adding William Nicholson to my short list of very good British writers. I look forward to reading the other two novels in the series.
This novel is quite reminiscent of the movie 'Love Actually' - set in and around London during the Christmas holiday season, a cast of interconnected characters spanning all age groups seeks meaning in love and life. Nicholson has reasonable success making the characters' voices distinct, though for the first section of the novel I did have a hard time keeping track of which people were related, which were just friends and which ones were the most unknown. The middle aged-group are battling the monotony of monogamy and the challenges of childrearing; the adolescents are either over-sexed or under-experienced, trying to navigate the complexities of sex and relationships; the oldest character has given up on life, feeling a lack of recognition of himself in the world, while the youngest child is desperately seeking attention and love in all the wrong places. Nicholson places his novel soundly in modernity, referencing and also mocking our obsession with things like Facebook and also tackling our perception of art, both traditional and modern. I enjoyed this book, I found myself engaged in the characters' struggles and rooting for some and against others. I think Nicholson has an entertaining novel here that does a good job of capturing the way people often overthink their lives to an almost comical degree. I wish that some of the characters had been more developed, I wanted more from Matt the plumber and from Meg, his live interest - I think they might have been the most interesting stories in the book and their non-resolution left me a little wanting. But in general, I liked the book, it was an enjoyable read - I give it 3 stars.
Received this as a GoodReads First Read.A seven day soap opera. A small town in England, several families and others interconnected through relationships and friendships and acquaintanceships. Marriages are faltering and strengthening; relationships are strengthening and breaking apart. Adults are trying to figure out this thing called life, their teenage kids are trying to figure out this thing called life. The one thing that everyone figures out, ¿It isn¿t about being happy.¿Great easy reading, a bit harsh language, but as I said, ¿soap opera.¿
When I first began ¿I Could Love You¿ ¿ the title of the book threw me a bit. It just sounded so¿halfhearted? The ¿could¿ was such a qualifier that I didn¿t know what to expect.What I got was a book that starts off with what seem too many characters who are too interconnected, but that grows in emotional depth and honesty. The reader is given a view of love and sex at many stages of life, in many different forms and from very differing points of view.Some loves are secret, some are brand new, some decades old and undergoing great change. The reader is able to view the relationships from both partner¿s perspectives which at times proves fascinating.¿What more can he offer her? Love? This thing that women distinguish from sex, the sticky residue that¿s left over when you take sex out of the equation. The thing that lasts, where everyone knows sex is fleeting. But love and sex can¿t be separated like this, they¿re both somewhere in the seething mess along with vanity and habit and dread and self-doubt. Even on its own no one knows what love is. Is it the flush of infatuation? Is it the confession of desperate need? Or a heightened form of friendship?¿To which the answer seems to be, it is all of these things and more. It depends on the circumstances of the people, the way they meet, where they are in their lives at the time, what their pasts and futures hold. These characters are torn between those they love and desire and those who love or desire them. Which is stronger? Which proves to be of a greater power? Desire or being desired? Loving or being loved? Beauty or being seen as beautiful?¿¿beauty. We define it so variously that it doesn¿t exist. What does exist, what remains constant, is our feelings about beauty: what we seek is a certain feeling about ourselves which is stimulated by the perception of others. The entire process actually happens in the mind, in our own minds and in the minds of the people round us.¿Some characters stood out more than most¿Belinda and Tom and Meg and the effects of infidelity. Alice and Jack and Chloe and young love and heartbreak.And by the end of the book, after looking at love from all sides and places and times, the title makes much more sense. It isn¿t half-hearted at all. It¿s gentle hearted, a whisper of hope, that after all, ¿¿I Could Love You¿.
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway, that in no way affects the content of my review. This novel centers around love. We see many characters, whose lives all seem to be connected in some way, and we see their journeys in relation to love. The joy of love, the heartbreak, the awkwardness of new love, unrequited love. Overall I enjoyed the book. It was a little confusing at first remembering who certain characters were but then it became easier as I read more. I enjoyed most of the characters stories, but there was one thing that just seemed off to me. In the book Alice finds out that Chloe, her friend, and her most of the time absent father Guy are in a relationship. She is rightfully mad, but she calls him seconds after figuring it out and forgives him right away. The whole situation seemed weird and that just made it weirder.