People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper

In brief: Emily was living the dream until her marriage fell into disarray. Falling in love with her boss and getting pregnant wasn’t part of the plan, but she’s ready to make a choice. Then 9/11 happens and she flees New York. 14 years on, her new life needs to meet her old one…

The good: The writing is brilliant and Emily’s frustrations call out loudly from the page.

The not-so-good: Why Emily has to make the choice to join the parts of her lives.

Why I chose it: Sounded really intriguing – thanks Pan Macmillan for the copy.

Year: 2016

Pages: 296

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Setting: New York City and California

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

I was immediately interested in People Who Knew Me after reading the blurb on the back cover. 9/11 is a brave choice for a major plot choice in a novel – after all, it’s probably one of the major crises that has happened in recent times. It’s something that people my age can reflect on – what they were doing and where they were. Kim Hooper handles this chaotic time with grace and sensitivity in the story, but it’s ultimately about so much more. It’s about love and the loss of it, family, the American health care system and making decisions with their possible ramifications. It’s told between two time periods – Emily in pre 9/11 New York and Connie in California in 2015.

But Emily and Connie are the same person. Emily fled New York in the days post 9/11, pregnant with her boss and lover’s child. She changed her name and forgot her past – husband, dog, work and life. Now she’s Connie, bartender and mother of Claire. It’s not an easy life, but it’s a happy one. Apart from a couple of close shaves, Emily is known as Connie to all and sundry. But then things change, throwing her world into disarray. For the first time, Connie must confront the past and decide whether her old life as Emily should link back to her.

You might think that this is a sad book, but it’s not. It deals with all emotions, from the happiness of Emily meeting her husband Drew just before she’s meant to go on a date to the crumbling of their marriage. It feels like of voyeuristic to read as their love dissolves into frustration and loss but it’s strangely addictive. Even though the story is told in the first person, Emily doesn’t hide anything from the reader. It makes the whole story raw, almost bare boned but I couldn’t dislike Emily as a character. Showing her vulnerability didn’t lead me to judge her for her decisions (even though I didn’t personally agree with them). I think it shows that Kim Hooper’s incredible writing skills have the power to make the reader like such a flawed character.

It’s also amazing that this is Kim Hooper’s debut novel –it’s polished and word perfect. Plus, linking two time periods just so is difficult, but she knows just when to switch between present and past. All the characters are beautifully crafted, even though many are flawed. (The demise of Drew’s character, who once held such promise, is painful to read. But his decision that family is important is admirable, even at the cost of his personal life.) Claire, Emily’s daughter, appears to be cute and wise beyond her years initially, but then she does some normal teenage stuff which made her more realistic to me.

Drew choosing to look after his ailing mother did make me wonder that if availability of government funded healthcare and nursing home placement was available, if he would have chosen a different route which may not have led towards his marriage woes. It was pretty awful that there was no help available to care for his mother unless it was a user pays system. Even her trip to the ER caused massive bills (which Drew and Emily had to pay for). Caregivers suffer enough strain without additional financial woes! But I digress – perhaps if there was a NHS type system, we wouldn’t have had this fantastic book of Emily’s choices. It’s beautifully portrayed and tells her story with honesty.

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