HIM is a heart-aching book from the promising and hugely talented pen of Clare Empson. Like all good writing, it draws you in and will not let you go until the very end. Eventually, you put it down somewhat battered and bruised by the experience.
Based around a relationship forged and then broken at university, it charts the lives of the two individuals concerned, middle-class Catherine and posh (but sensitive) Lucian. That is, before they get together, their intense coupling, a shattering aftermath, a reconciliation (again furious and intense) fifteen years later after going their separate ways, followed by yet more trauma that leaves Catherine mute.
Happy ever after? For you to find out although I would order a big box of Kleenex to help you get to the end.
Cleverly, the book flits back and forth in time like a ping pong ball without giving away the nub of the plot. In a nutshell, what happened at university to cause a wrecking ball to demolish their intense relationship? A coupling infused with an overdose of passion and with all the ingredients to be sustained (not a typical university coming together). One born to last but shattered in a night. In Lucian’s mind, a relationship ended without rhyme nor reason.
The characters Empson has created are quite marvellous. Lucian lives in a decadent Somerset bubble surrounded by hangers-on, fine wine and his paintings. Few of his friends are without their problems. Rachel has massive drug issues while Jack is a sycophant (and a nasty piece of work). Hedonism rules. Rarely are they not in touching distance of a bottle of Montrachet or a wrap of cocaine.
In contrast, Catherine has husband Sam and their children as the main planks supporting her rather middle-of-the-road, humdrum life. But all that is wrecked by an indiscretion on Sam’s behalf. Only long-term friend Liv provides her with any pick up and go. Despite marriage, she cannot get Lucian out of her mind.
The book is a beautifully crafted piece of work, helped by Empson’s clever turn of phrase. It is not without its dose of tragedy (poor old Harry) but Him is really one big passionate love story you desperately want to end happily. Whether you get your wish will remain a secret but the journey towards discovery is hugely entertaining. Like a glass of Montrachet, I couldn’t put Him down.
Title photo by @clareempson