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The Empathy Problem by Gavin Extence

Out 11th August (Hodder and Staughton)

Gavin Extence had one of the biggest hits of 2013 with his bittersweet comedy The Universe Versus Alex Woods (which was nominated for the National Book Award and won the Waterstones 11 book prize), and now he’s crafted another corker in The Empathy Problem. Central character Gabriel Vaughn is an arrogant, self-obsessed hedge-fund manager who’s diagnosed with a brain tumour that begins to affect his personality; for the first time in his adult life he begins to experience emotion and to develop a capacity for empathy. When he falls in love with Caitlin, a socially-aware violinist he meets busking on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, he invents an alternative life for himself to avoid alienating her. As with all secrets, we know the truth will eventually emerge, but how will Caitlin react when it does? And if Gabriel really wants to make up for past mistakes, how will he do it? The Empathy Problem is part romantic comedy, part political satire, and part exploration of what it means to live a good life. It’s funny, well observed and heartfelt without being sentimental, which more than makes up for the occasional moment of implausibility. While it doesn’t pack quite the same emotional punch as Alex Woods, it’s a lovely, engaging read that’ll leave you resolving to change your own life for the better.

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