25/08/2016 10:51 BST | Updated 19/08/2017 06:12 BST

Book Review: The Empathy Problem by Gavin Extence

We all have them; that friend that is obsessed with money and power.

He's insulting, mostly towards people at your dinner parties and will always find ways to inject into his daily conversations that he's self-made and drives around in a Ferrari, ironically thinking to himself that such a statement makes him sound humble. It's as if the success comes with bragging rights. How does it feel to be in their shoes though? To have all that they have and yet be surrounded by people whom you deem secretly lesser, yet remain friends with you, purely for the enjoyment of discussing the enormity of your ego?

In Gavin Extence's new novel, The Empathy Problem, we are introduced to one such character by the name of Gabriel Vaughn. He's 32 and has it all, or at least he thinks he does. A brain tumour rapidly develops deep inside his brain, numbering his days. The tumour although inoperable, comes with its own character changing advantages. Gabriel is given in his final months, new experiences in the form of caring emotions.


The first person plot of a man who starts off as a dislikable individual, starts to see the error of his ways and turns his life around, is a typical device. However, Extence has turned this from a first person and into a third giving us a wonderful narrator whose use of psychic distance is enough to have you feel that this was in fact the ghost of Gabriel Vaughn telling us his tale, this is never mentioned or hinted towards and for that, makes it all the more brilliant.

The interconnections between characters is very real and void of the usual bourgeois Thursday night book group discussion fodder you tend to find seeping from a lesser books pages, of such the 1st person copout perspectives we are bored with month after month from publishers. The same can be said of the thoughts Gabriel ponders. Extence clearly knows someone that is close to him that matches this individual almost completely. As I said above, I happen to have a friend that could easily be Gabriel Vaughn. I have even gone so far as recommend this book to him. Interestingly enough, his reply was much in the same way that Gabriel would've chosen; manipulative and elitist; "I don't have time to read books" Thus insulting me for having so much time to read while also declaring his superiority in that he is in constant demand. What, an, arse.

Gavin Extence's writing is both witty and sincere, a clique page-turner it isn't. But certainly a more refined novel for the modern man to read at leisure. Many memorable moments you'll feel compelled to share. For instance, when Gabriel Vaughn feels outmaneuvered by a young clergyman it's made the funnier that in fact, he was outbullshited. Subtle small references such as that, to the modern mans feelings, are very clever and certainly enabling that the book remain in your hands and not sat collecting dust in some pile, holding open a parlor door in your terraced, overpriced town house, in the best part of town.

The Empathy Problem is published by Hodder & Stoughton and available to buy in hardback from all good book shops.