The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life

BOOK: The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life
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‘So incredibly accurate and true. Utterly captures the sense of quiet desperation of ordinary lives, the huge emotional vulnerability of having children and the ways in which life turns on a sixpence.’

Kate Mosse

‘This novel is about a collection of people, their ordinary lives in relation to one another alongside their private and sometimes desperate aspirations… In this book nobody is ordinary because everyone is accorded the dignity, pathos and comedy of that third dimension – the secret, intense and continuous inner life. The writing is unobtrusively brilliant. I can’t remember enjoying and admiring a new novel more.’

Elizabeth Jane Howard

‘An absolute winner… amazingly perceptive, very moving, wholly absorbing. I was totally wrapped up in every person’s daily anxieties and minded hugely about what happened to them. What a huge treat is waiting for those who have not yet read it!’

Juliet Nicolson

‘Just peep beneath the idyllic surface and it is teeming with lust, tragedy, pathos, broken dreams… Nicholson writes about all his diverse characters with great kindness and he’s one of those rare novelists who can write about sex.’

Marina Lewycka,

‘William Nicholson’s racily enjoyable and quietly perceptive novel turns the Home Counties into John Updike territory.’

Daily Telegraph

‘The godmother of this compulsively readable novel is George Eliot, whose
supplies its epigraph… there is a serious concern with the sense of quiet desperation with which people live their apparently ordinary lives.’

Irish Examiner

The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life
does exactly what it says on the tin, prying as it does into the innermost thoughts of a small cast of ordinary people to provide a genuinely moving account of their relationships, their struggles and their frustrated ambitions.’

Brighton Evening Argus

The Secret Intensity
Everyday Life
McArthur & Company
First published in Canada in 2011 by
McArthur & Company
322 King Street West, Suite 402
Toronto, Ontario M5V 1J2
Copyright © 2009 by William Nicholson
All rights reserved.
The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, without the written consent ofthe publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.
The following works have been quoted in this book:
RUNNING ON EMPTY: Words and Music by Jackson Browne © 1977 (Renewed), 1978 Swallow Turn Music All Rights Reserved.
Used by permission from Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.
GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown
TELL LAURA I LOVE HER by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh
LOVE ME TENDER by Elvis Presley and Vera Matson
Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders. However, the publishers will be glad to rectify in future editions any inadvertent omissions brought to their attention
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Nicholson, William
The secret intensity of everyday life [electronic resource] / William Nicholson.
Type of computer file:  Electronic monograph in EPUB format.
Issued also in print format.
ISBN 978-1-77087-060-4
I. Title.
PR6064.I23S42 2011a – 823’.914 – C2011-900919-6
ISBN 978-1-77087-060-4 (e-book)
ISBN 978-1-55278-951-3 (pbk)
Typeset by Ellipsis Books Limited, Glasgow
Cover Images © Corbis and Jupiter
eBook development by Wild Element
‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’

George Eliot,

The story takes place in Sussex over six days
in May 2000


She recognizes the handwriting on the envelope. She drinks from her mug of tea, looks across the kitchen table at Henry, sees him absorbed in the triage of the morning post. One pile for the bin, one pile for later, one for now. He uses a paper knife when opening letters. Not a kitchen knife, an actual slender, dull-edged blade made for the purpose. The children silent, reading. Rain outside the windows puckering the pond.

Laura wills the letter to remain unnoticed. It’s been forwarded from her parents’ address.

‘You know Belinda Redknapp?’ she says.

‘Should I?’ Henry inattentive.

‘One of the school mothers. You rather fancied her. Husband like a frog.’

‘They all have husbands like frogs.’

The bankers, lawyers, insurance company executives whose children are their children’s friends, whose wealth makes Henry feel poor.

‘Anyway, she wants to meet Aidan Massey.’

Henry looks up, surprised.


‘She thinks he’s sexy.’

Carrie pauses her absorbed scrutiny of the

‘Who’s sexy?’

‘The man on Daddy’s programme.’


‘He’s an evil dwarf,’ says Henry. ‘I want to kill him.’

The letter lies by her plate, immense as a beach towel, shouting her unmarried name: Laura Kinross. She wants to muffle it, mute it, gag it. Pick up a section of the newspaper, glance at it, lay it down just so. But the desire inhibits the action. She’s ashamed to discover that she means to leave the letter unopened until Henry has gone. So to mitigate the shame she makes no move to conceal the envelope, saying to Fate, See, I’m doing nothing. If I’m found out I’ll accept the consequences.

Jack is interested in the proposal to kill Aidan Massey.

‘How would you kill him, Daddy?’

‘Hello, Jack. Good to have you with us.’

Laura frowns. She reaches out one hand to stop Jack smearing his sleeve in the butter. She hates it when Henry talks like that. Jack’s too dreamy, he says.

‘No, how?’

‘Well.’ Henry puts on the face he makes when summoning facts from his brain. He actually touches one finger to his brow, as if pressing a button. ‘I’d tell the make-up girl to go on adding make-up until he couldn’t breathe. Go on adding it until he’s got no features left. Just smooth and round like a ball.’

Jack is awed silent by the detail.

Henry gathers up the pile of junk mail and takes it to the bin, which is already so full the lid won’t close. He rams the wad of paper down hard. This action makes Laura flinch, because now it will be impossible to remove the bin bag without ripping it, but she says nothing. She is, it strikes her, lying low.

Henry reaches for his leather bag, which is bursting with printed matter.

‘Oh, yes,’ he tells Jack, suddenly remembering. ‘I read your composition. I loved it.’

‘Oh. Okay.’

‘No. I did. I loved it.’ He leans down for a kiss, Jack back reading
. ‘I’m off. Love you.’

Laura gets up. She moves slowly because she wants to move fast, to draw Henry out into the hall, out of sight of the letter. She squeezes between Carrie’s chair and the dresser, remembering as she does so that last night Carrie had been in tears.

‘Better now, darling?’ she whispers as she passes.

‘Yes,’ says Carrie.

Laura knows her behaviour is undignified and unnecessary. Surely the past has lost its power. Twenty years ago almost, we’re different people, I had long hair then. So did he.

‘When will you be home?’

‘Christ knows. I’ll try to be on the 6.47.’

Rain streaking the flint wall. He kisses her in the open front doorway, a light brush of the lips. As he does so he murmurs, ‘Love you.’ This is habitual, but it has a purpose he once told her. Henry suffers from bursts of irrational anxiety about her and the children, that they’ll be killed in a car crash, burned in a fire. He tells them he loves them every day as he leaves them because it may be the day of their death.

BOOK: The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life
12.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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