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VINE VOICEon June 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is my first Nicholson novel. I came to it as a big fan of his "Shadowlands," the made-for-TV movie about bachelor Oxford don and author C. S. Lewis and his relationship with American poet Joy Gresham, that then became an acclaimed West End/Broadway play that morphed into an Oscar-nominated movie. I also loved his movie "Firelight." So I was really expecting this tale of a large cast of British suburbanites and their intersecting lives over the course of the 2008 Christmas season to be my kind of novel. What I wasn't expecting was that I'd sometimes have to put some effort into not nodding off or that frequently my mind would wander to what-if thoughts of how much better a novel this might have been if someone who really understood women had created the women's roles--someone who could plumb their depths, give them some distinction and dimension and make them as memorable as Nicholson makes his male characters. But they're not. With the possible exception of Alice, Nicholson's female characters are basically forgettable, blah stereotypes. His male characters, on the other hand,--particularly the beleaguered screenwriter, the cheating plastic surgeon, the aging portrait artist and the lonely plumber who restores violins--were obviously carefully crafted and empathetically wrought--the kinds of people I truly enjoyed getting to know and spend time with and whose pain, hopes and angst I could feel. And I love the notion that the cure for all that is to buy the guy a shed. (Hey, wait a minute: That give-him-a-shed thing as a solution to male angst also came highly recommended in the fabulous--and also British--Shania Kindersley-Sarah Vine book "Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female." Are the Brits onto something there?, I asked in the original incarnation of this review. Only in terms of terminology, I've just learned. Here in America, I'm told, we call them "man caves.")

The author's note on the back page says that this novel "picks up some of the characters of my earlier novel 'The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life,' which was set in 2000, eight years earlier." Had that note been at the beginning, I might have read that one first. Not sure it would have made a difference, but I would have liked having that option.
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VINE VOICEon May 6, 2011
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This novel, taking a look at the lives and loves of the British middle class, is squarely is the great tradition of Balzac's "Comedie Humaine." That's not to say that this book is a comedy, although it has its comic moments, but it takes a broad view of the inexplicable foibles of human beings in their search for love, sex, God, happiness, professional fulfillment and the need to be loved and appreciated.

The cast of characters is very large but the author exhibits tremendous skill is painting and delineation each individual so that they really come to life and stand out. The characters are loosely connected to one another in a kind of daisy chain. Belinda, who is very beautiful but "hollowed out by a combination of insincerity and dieting," is thinking she might enjoy having an affair but is wounded to the core when she discovers that her surgeon husband Tom is really having one. Tom is thrilled that Meg, a younger executive, really desires him and is willing to talk dirty -- but Meg really needs love. Meg's plumber Matt, who fixes violins in his spare time, thinks Meg could be the one for him. But Matt's mother, a nagging hypochondriac, cannot let her son go and will do anything to sabotage any relationship he may form.

Belinda's daughter Chloe sleeps with many boys and toys with them, breaking their hearts -- until she herself is toyed with by Guy, an older man and the father of Chloe's friend Belinda. And so it goes on.

One strength of this book is that the characters span all ages from childhood through sulky adolescence into youth, middle age and old age. Nicholson treats his characters gently and without condescension, observing their flailing attempts to find meaning in their lives with sympathy even when they blunder into horrible mistakes. "For all the changes of name and location," he observes, "the same things keep on happening and the world doesn't come to an end."

But this book is firmly grounded in time and place and Nicholson has a neat satirical touch, gently mocking the earnest attempts of well-meaning people to reduce their "carbon footprints." He takes a few, well-aimed swipes at modern art and modern movies. A screenplay about a stockbroker who becomes a shepherd is transformed into one about a shepherd who becomes a stockbroker -- and then into a plot in which the shepherd's dog becomes a stockbroker.

Matt, the plumber, one of the most sympathetic characters, describes the painstaking way in which he restores violins and the wonderful craftsmanship involved. That same attention to detail and beautiful craftsmanship describes the artful construction of this book. Most of the characters do not achieve happy endings, although some do -- but they find ways to muddle on. The end of this book is genuinely moving. I do heartily recommend this novel.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you are middle class, or doing a little better, "I Could Love You," is not so much an escape as it is a mirror.

William Nicholson's characters can be difficult to distinguish from one another. They have generic names (Alice, Laura, Jack), are all white, and each luxuriating in the search for meaning or LOVE.

They talk similarly as well. Idioms, slang, and varied voices are not the author's strong suit, but narration itself changes pitch and tone as his assemblage of characters take turns under the literary microscope.

"I Could Love You," comes off as one of those ensemble movies that Hugh Grant stars in, featuring lots of people living in close proximity, yet only mildly conscious of one another.

"Love Actually," comes to mind.

And that's the set-up. Sometimes paths cross unexpectedly and narrative flames are sparked as a result.

This is a zeitgeist piece including references to Facebook and the MP3 player. If you are wondering whether you'll have much in common with these folks, you will, unless you're the kind who helps people in Africa or works as an undercover agent in the war on terror.

Whether you'll care about them is another question, but Nicholson is a writer of true command, a deft hand relaying a story that seems milquetoast on the surface, but offers edgy and insightful moments, meanings, and passages.

"Once you know that you don't know," he writes, "everything changes. The absurdity of so much of our lives ceases to be a puzzle. Of course we're ridiculous. Of course we make fools of ourselves. Why wouldn't we? We are fools. We know so little. But are not any the less loveable for all that."

One of the novel's strengths is its multi-generational tack. Literature has never scanted young love, but Nicholson renders the complexities and epiphanies of middle-age very nicely.

For example, Tom Redknapp finds himself oddly removed from a big issue at the hospital where he performs plastic surgeries. As the conference room debate rages, he is thinking about his extramarital affair:

"In some strange way he feels as if he's started his life over again. This time round there's no drive to achieve, no deferring of pleasure in the interests of later gain. This time, the pleasure."

The art world comes in for some particularly pointed observations the indoctrinated, and not-so-indoctrinated, may find provocative.

Nicholson's portrait of the forgotten and declining painter Anthony Armitage is a strong departure and counterpoint to the rest of the youthful, mainstream ensemble.

But as the title suggests, love is the big issue here and the characters' experiences are varied enough to offer succor, advice, and cautionary tales for those who like, enjoy, desire, or think a lot about the big L.

The author does an intelligent job of putting something across that is light and entertaining, yet somehow substantive and unsettling.

His larger point is best summed up in this passage, also from the brain of Tom Redknapp, daydreaming of his paramour who is no great shakes in the looks department:

"Nothing to write home about. And there's the wonder of it. Beauty turns out not to create desire after all. Desire creates beauty."

With its many contemporary and hip references, "I Could Love You," is not bound for the classics shelf, but its author was not trying to achieve that.

Still, what Nicholson sets out to do, he does well in this easy and entertaining read.
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VINE VOICEon May 17, 2011
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Gathering the pains, passion and heartache of an interesting cast of characters, Nicholson, a British author, depicts love on many levels. He seems an expert on the tribulatons of love involving adultery, betrayal, lust, longing, and isolation. Deftly conveying emotions through a group of English characters, the author set this novel is 2008, an insecure financial time, to say the least. The time of this novel when the world became financially vulnerable provided a primary base for his stories.

This diffidence transcended from a lonely woman willing to settle for only 30 minutes a week with her lover to an aged artist who seethes with anger and old love. There is quite a mix of personalities but there is a reason for each one. The college kids, encumbered with their insecurities, the 50ish women with cheating husbands, and those that try to hold them together make up this meaningful book. This varied cast is seeking some peace and answers and all the while, striving to sate their desires whether it is sexual, religious or a pure sense of belonging.

Most of the players had profound feelings and aspirations. Tom, the plastic surgeon, married to Belinda, a still-beautiful 50ish woman, simply needs to be overtly desired. Jack, an intelligent lonesome college student, would analyze his feelings and fear rejection. At this juncture, many of the characters felt an edginess that could either became a catalyst for a positive or negative love experience.

Nicholson's diverse group intermingles and what do we learn? The search for love is fragile and the thrill of the chase could be the most important since we learn to accept and compromise on many levels. A good read.

My only criticism is the cover. I don't know if the hardcover will be identical, but the front cover on my pre-publication book suggests this is a superficial romance, which it definitely is not.
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VINE VOICEon May 4, 2011
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This book takes a bit to get into. However it is worth this investment. There are about 13-15 characters and you are given moments of their life. At first I was struggling to understand who was who. In fact, I wrote down a chart so I could keep track. As you see the drama unfold, this keeps you locked in. That's the tough thing with a book like this. It keeps you reading and then next thing you know, you are done.

Nothing that happens here is earth shattering in itself, but some of the revelations to the characters (and to you) are profound.

In one section you get three perspectives of a man cheating on his wife and the writing is magnificent. The author captures the why and the innocence (If you can imagine that) in the motivation. He captures the cycle of ache the wife goes through, as well as the loss to the other woman. What makes it particularly ironic is that this was the wife that had been daydreaming a fling of her own from her steady and uninspiring husband.

Throughout the book, you get a sense of each character's thoughts and ideas. I like that the author captures that people sometimes act and then think. Or even observe themselves acting and being astounded at their own performance. I found in this book the dialogue was well thought out and realistic. This can be especially difficult to do well, when the characters are arguing.

Like life, nothing is tied up neat with a bow. You see from this point the characters will move on. You have hopes for some, while you know others are still floundering.

This book is more than a sum of its parts and well worth the time to read it. As it's not the author's first, I plan to look into some of his other works, I was so impressed.
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VINE VOICEon June 1, 2011
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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".
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on May 2, 2011
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In I Could Love You, William Nicholson presents a slice of British life taking place over one week in 2008, featuring a large cast of characters - mostly several couples and their friends and nearly-adult children - whose lives intersect in various ways. Most of the characters experience some kind of life-changing event or epiphany over the week. From that point on, their lives will be different, some more than others.

The novel addresses the big questions: What am I here for? What makes a good relationship? What will I be remembered for? What will make me happy? The older characters are no better at figuring out these questions than are the younger ones.

I feel for these people, since I'm the same age as the older set, and have a child a little older than the characters' children. I have similar questions and fears, and like them, I'm watching my son navigating through the big questions of what job, what girlfriend, what do I want out of life, and wishing I could make it easier for him than it's been for me.

The characters - arrogant, self-assured Diana; unmoored, searching-for-meaning Roddy; vapid Chloe; insecure Jack; Teflon-coated Guy; Matt, stuck with a toxic parent and unable to make a move; Meg, unable to see her own worth. Silly Belinda; Alan, great at working out problems at home but helpless at work; unhappy Alice; Joe, Christina, Anthony, Tom, Carrie - I'd like to spend a lot more time with all of them.

This novel's subject matter is very similar to a lot of the "women's fiction" that i read, but it's presented from a man's point of view, especially regarding sex, marriage, and adultery, which gives it a bit of a twist. One character's adultery is viewed by him as "nothing of importance" - yet both of the women involved are devastated. That's such a typically male view and fairly insulting to both women. There are other attitudes towards sex in the novel that turned me off because of crudity.

I liked this book but I don't love it. I found it well-written, and I really like the characters, but it's a little remote or emotionally cold. The life changes are so profound but the overall tone of the book is so low-key that it doesn't quite work for me. However, there's enough to like that I give it 4 stars and I do recommend it to readers who appreciate a good story about modern life with strong characters, admittedly no small thing in today's book market.
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VINE VOICEon May 2, 2011
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This captivating, easily read novel, set in the countryside outside of London in the late 2000's, involving several, loosely connected couples and their college-age children, is a study primarily about the authenticity of relationships. The characters in this story are highly capable, creative, artistic types, though Tom is a plastic surgeon, who live with convenient fictions concerning the true nature of marriage, love, fidelity, beauty, attraction, artistic endeavor, and the like. The story is told from several of their perspectives.

At the heart of much of the author's discussion is the notion of desire - an extremely powerful, motivating force that is often misunderstood, suppressed, or exaggerated. Both Belinda and Tom know that the spark is gone from their marriage, and though she thinks of other men, it is Tom who forces them to consider the tradeoffs among marital stability, love, and the fulfillment of desire. Clearly, in dealing with Tom's transgressions, they demonstrate that men and women have entirely different feelings concerning intimacy, but forswearing extra-marital lovers seems to be only a minimal solution.

Belinda's daughter Chloe, a girl of extraordinary beauty, thinks nothing of using and discarding boys on a whim. But being painfully rejected after a short affair by an older man forces her to reconsider the relative significance of desire, beauty, and genuine attraction. To her credit, using her persuasive radiance, she manages to start a burgeoning relationship between two of her somewhat socially-challenged friends.

The characters in this book - some of them with a certain appeal - are vehicles to examine authenticity in life. Perhaps many people would claim that fictions are not tolerated in their lives. But peeling away artificialities and assumptions can have mixed results: in some cases lives are enhanced and in others the confrontation with truth can prove to be far too unsettling. Though the author's musings on authenticity are quite interesting, in some respects his resolutions in this book border on the feel-good. Plenty of space remains for the reader to ponder the interactions of desire, love, marriage, etc.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
British writer William Nicholson shines a light on love - young love and old love - in his new novel, "I Could Love You". Set in London in that fearful December, 2008, when the world was reeling from the financial meltdowns, Nicholson introduces ten or so main characters, and a few peripheral ones, who face the Christmas holidays with eagerness and trepidation. Much of the trepidation deals with "love", "fidelity", "honor", and "happiness".

Nicholson's book brings to mind the movie "Love, Actually", which also featured many characters in a short time frame, also at the holidays. That was a very good movie, and this is a very good book. Some other reviewers have remarked on the number of characters and how difficult it was to keep them straight. I suppose there were many characters, both old and young, but somehow their stories overlapping made it easier for me to keep track of them. Is "love" and the pursuit of it limited by age? Nicholson seems to say "no", that love and happiness can happen at any age. Is it "fate" or "kismet" that bring people together? Sometimes it is, and sometimes love can happen - and reignite itself - under bad circumstances.

Nicholson has written a thoughtful novel. It comes after his first novel about many of the same characters, "Secret Intensity of Everyday Life" which I have not read but will do. It's always interesting to see how characters in a book age and learn.
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on May 29, 2011
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I wish I could give it 3.5 stars, because it is flawed - but I did enjoy it very much, felt the plot engaging and his writing style drew me into the little world of this London suburb & the "secret angst" of ordinary people. Loved the witty & sardonic British dialogue.

Nicholson starts out a little clumsy in the way he introduced characters and how they are all tied together. Think "Love Actually" - all mini-plots about characters whose lives intersect with one another.

For the first couple of chapters, I had to keep flipping back to previous ones to remember what was going on & how the mini-plot related to the rest of the stories /characters.

I think the problem is that Nicholson introduces too many characters & storylines. He could have eliminated a few, for example the entire "artist" relationships between Anthony Armitage & Carrie, Joe Nola & Christina. I think the author was trying to create an analogy between love & art; truth & beauty, but it didn't quite work. The storyline between the characters was not really developed well - I never felt an ounce of "connection" between myself and those characters musings on love & art.

And that is what Nicholson does so well - as the reader I felt the characters internal dialogues about all different aspects of love & relationship to be so recognizable. Think "Bridget Jones Diary". I think many of the storylines, that of Tom & Belinda, Jack & Alice, Meg & Matt, Chloe & Guy - readers will recognize as having felt, but in awe of how well Nicholson can describe them. Some are very funny and the book will make you laugh, others are sobering and will cause you to reflect on your own experience with relationships and love.
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