All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper

on July 18, 2016

People Who Knew MePeople Who Knew Me
Kim Hooper
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

People who knew me think I’m dead.

Emily Morris got her happily-ever-after earlier than most. Married at a young age to a man she loves passionately, she is building the life she always wanted. That is, until her husband’s business fails and her mother-in-law becomes chronically ill, causing cracks to appear in her marriage. To cope, Emily throws herself into her work.

That’s when she falls in love with her boss.

That’s when she gets pregnant.

Just as Emily is finally ready to make the choice between the two men, 9/11 splits the world apart. Amid this terrible tragedy, Emily sees an opportunity to remake herself.

But fourteen yaers later, a life-threatening diagnosis forces her to deal with the legacy of what she left behind.

Told in alternating time periods, People Who Knew Me is a riveting debut about a woman who must confront the past in order to secure the future.

I bet most people born after 1990 can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the Twin Towers being hit by planes on September 11th, 2001. I know I can. I was in my dorm room at university listening to music and working on an assignment when one of the guys banged on my door. You’ve got to come out and see this, he said. They had the TV on in the common room when they cut into whatever midnight timeslot crap was playing (I’m in Australia, so this was late at night) and went live to the footage from New York. Half my floor was up, the rest wandered out in dribs and drabs and we sat there and watched it all unfold most of the night and the next day. Some of that footage I’ll never forget, as long as I live.

In this novel, Emily has kind of backed herself into a corner. She and her husband Drew have been having troubles for a long time, they barely see each other due to circumstances that are really beyond their control and Emily has begun an affair with her boss. She keeps promising him that she’ll tell Drew about them but she never does. On 9/11, Emily is told to take the day off, sleep in and therefore she’s not in her office on the 101st floor when the plane hits. Emily sees a way out of well, everything. Pregnant, unsure who the father is and struggling to see the way forward, she leaves behind Emily Morris in New York and emerges as Connie in California. For fourteen years, “Connie” lives with her daughter Claire. Only a devastating diagnosis forces her to face the lies she’s told and the secrets she’s kept for her daughter’s welfare.

I’m afraid I’m going to bring a bit of a prejudice into this review, although I’m clearly stating it. When I read the synopsis of this, I was immediately intrigued – someone faking their own death and reinventing themselves is pretty interesting. I wanted to see what it was that had made Emily go to such lengths. The book is told in a back and forth style between Emily/Connie in the present day and the events in her history that led to her making this decision. I quite enjoyed this telling but there were many things I did not enjoy.

This bit is my prejudice because this book turned into Another Cancer Book. They’re everywhere at the moment, it’s like they’re following me. I’ve honestly had enough of cancer in my real life – my dad had cancer a few years go, my husband has had two tumours removed in the past two years, one from his kidney and another from his lung. A couple months ago a friend of mine died at just 38 after a very short battle with a very aggressive cancer. Everywhere I turn, there it is. Our life now revolves around 3-monthly MRIs to ensure it hasn’t returned. I read to get away from cancer. And it seems that it’s getting harder and harder to do. I almost put this book down when Emily/Connie got her diagnosis. All I could think was oh please, not again. I understand that so many people face cancer these days that it’s obviously going to be featured and explored in books a hundred different ways. At the moment though, I just don’t want to read any of it.

However I persevered because I wanted to get to the bottom of why Emily left New York and in the end, the reason was kind of disappointing to me. I felt as though a lot of her behaviour over the course of the novel when she’s married and still living in New York, was pretty selfish. She had a lot to put up with, I certainly don’t deny that. And her husband Drew had certainly had his selfish moments as well. But a lot of what Drew did later in their marriage was mired in love and duty as well and even though it impacted on Emily’s life greatly I don’t think she ever acknowledged the sacrifice Drew was making too. There is of course, also a big debate that could be had about the American health care system and the strain it puts on the families of people who don’t have health insurance. Some of what Drew and Emily had to deal with is incomprehensible to me as an Australian, where our health system is very different.

Ultimately I found Emily a coward. Choosing to fake her death and flee to the other side of the country to avoid a potential outcome just didn’t really sit well with me. Especially with the whole 9/11 thing, so many people perished in that. It felt somewhat tasteless to use such a monumental tragedy as a way to change her life because she didn’t have the guts to speak to her husband about what she’d been doing and what the potential outcomes might have been and maybe she didn’t want to be married to him anymore. I did wonder if Emily had been sure of the outcome, if she would’ve left….or if she would’ve just stayed in New York and gone on pretending, going through the motions.

This left me a little unsatisfied. I would’ve liked a bit more of Connie’s life in California, I never really got the feeling what it was like for her to start again, cut off from everyone and raise a child pretty much singlehandedly. She seemed to have the perfect house + job combo fall in her lap but I’m sure there must’ve been trying times when Claire was a baby where she struggled to cope alone. Instead she seemed to sail through life up until the diagnosis, the only thing that made her reconsider some of her actions and tell Claire about her father. If she’d never been diagnosed, it never would’ve occurred to her to stop depriving her daughter of the father that was still living or her ex-husband (current? there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s never examined, like the fact that Drew has since married again since Emily’s “death”, a marriage that is surely invalid/bigamous/illegal/whatever now that he knows that Emily is still live…’s not discussed) of a child. You could argue that he wasn’t being deprived, because he never knew of her existence and perhaps that’s true. But Claire certainly knew that she had a father although she believed him to be dead. Ugh, there’s just too much here. Claire actually takes all of this news rather well, far better than Connie/Emily actually deserved.

An intriguing idea but a lot of it just didn’t really work for me and a few holes left me with far more questions than I find enjoyable.


Book #145 of 2016

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