Book Review: Him - Clare Empson

Him - Clare Empson

The thing about voluntary mutism and dissociative amnesia, which is basically being unable or unwilling to speak or unable and unwilling to let thoughts focus, is that it's usually associated with trauma and shock. Catherine Elliott has been silent for four months despite efforts by her family and doctors to get her to come back to them. One technique is to get the victim to hold on to a single important event or person that will bring everything back together, and for Catherine that important person is Lucian Wilkes. The other thing about voluntary mutism and dissociative amnesia is that you need to be patient, because it's going to take a while to find out what it is about Lucian that has caused Catherine to fall into this condition.

Catherine met Lucian 15 years ago at university. He's the kind of boy who makes an immediate and unforgettable impression on everyone; intelligent, witty, handsome, rich, artistic, a little bit wild and impulsive. Not like Catherine who lives a sheltered, safe life and is already in love with the stable and reliable Sam, the man she is going to marry. And she does marry Sam, but only after an intense relationship with Lucian that she would break off after a few weeks for an as yet unexplained reason that will undoubtedly become clear.

That was fifteen years ago and it caused a lot of upset at the time, driving Lucian to near-suicidal despair and earning Catherine the eternal enmity of his close friends. Things have happened in both their lives in the meantime, the two of them never meeting again despite having once shared the most passionate love affair ever, but as Catherine starts to put things together again it becomes apparent that something terrible happened just four months ago that has contributed to Catherine's current condition.

Since you're going to have to wait until something like the second last page of the book to find the answer out - provided you don't guess sooner - you may hope that there is enough interest and suspense maintained in the meantime in Him. Whether Clare Empson succeeds in that will depend on whether you consider Him to be primarily a suspense thriller or a romance novel. If you're expecting more of a suspense thriller you're probably going to be disappointed at how long the situation is drawn out and how much time is spent in romantic contemplation of both separate parties believing that they have lost the opportunity to be with the greatest love of their lives. The novel flits between 'Now', '15 Years Ago' when they first met, fell in love and broke up, and the 'Four Months Ago' when Lucian came back into Catherine's life, with apparently disastrous consequences.

For a significant part of Him it's all a little bit uneventful, drawn-out and repetitive. We get both Catherine and Lucian's perspective, so we know that the feelings of love and pain were mutual, but frankly nothing about either Catherine or Lucian is terribly appealing; not Catherine's 15 years of stable marriage, not Lucian's celebrity artist lifestyle, nor the circumstances, mansions with butlers, and endless parties with his rich friends and their indulgent lifestyles. It's all a bit of a tepid updating of The Great Gatsby.

And yet, there's enough in the account of the relationship that Catherine describes between her and Lucian, and in the unspoken and outspoken relationships between Lucian's friends that hint at deeper issues and point towards what might be behind her condition. Catherine's medical condition does provide a plausible reason for all this beating around the bush, but too much depends on how much you invest in Catherine and Lucian's love story being subjected to tragic twists of fate, and neither the romance not the late revelations have the necessary impact to account for Catherine's condition or make you feel that it's been a worthwhile read.

Him by Clare Empson is published by Orion on 23rd August 2018

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