Monday, 21 July 2014

Her by Harriet Lane: Part 2

published 2014







[Nina is babysitting for Emma]

[Emma] asks me to ensure Christopher doesn’t drink anything else tonight – he has recently dropped the night nappy – and after that she and Ben retreat to their room while I pop the baby down on the carpet and help Christopher out of the bath. For a moment or two Cecily is content to sit there unsteadily, but then she starts to grizzle, looking for her mother, threatening to build up to something, so I hurriedly help her brother into his pyjamas, biting my lip as the cotton jersey snags and wrinkles on his small damp limbs: an ancient, just-remembered frustration. Now I’m under pressure to silence Cecily, to show them I can cope, so I scoop her up, lifting and then – as Christopher leads me to her room – jokingly half-dropping her, trying to distract her with excitement, needing to make her forget her tiredness and hunger, and my unfamiliarity. She’s not convinced at first, but then I feel it, a fat bubble of laughter rising up inside her, and I think, bull’s eye.



observations: Second entry on this book – should be read in conjunction with this one.

Her manages to be a page-turning thriller, as well as a great, and funny, piece of observational literary fiction.

There is a wonderful dinnerparty – not toxic, like the ones described in my recent Guardian article, but just embarrassing. I love the guest who 

refers to Audrey and Alfred as if they’re famous wits and sages, the key players in her social landscape. Often they are produced as trump cards, hijacking conversations, taking us off in unexpected directions, towards the things she really feels impassioned about: Ofsted reports, a column in the Guardian’s family section, the celebrated rudeness of the local butcher. 
Audrey and Alfred are her under-10 children.

Lane is just superb on the trials of motherhood – there are plenty of descriptions of this world out there, but I can’t remember any to match this. Going on holiday, ‘Emma’s candy-striped bag is packed with equipment for all evantualities including famine, sunstroke and plagues of insects, nappy changes and trips to the loo are counterbalanced by last-minute drinks of water.’

Emma’s commitment to the present, her past gone: ‘All those busy, healthy, confident years…the sense that it all must be leading, inexorably, to something. And now this. Was it always leading here, I wonder: to teetering piles of laundry, to teaching yourself to joint a chicken, to never running out of milk? Was it?’

And as we’re thinking about women’s lives: Last year I had a mixed reaction to Claire Messud’s book The Woman Upstairs – see blog entry here. In fact I find the picture of a woman artist (and her artist friend) in this book to be much more convincing and recognizable than in the Messud, as well as the picture of motherhood and women’s choices right now. I don’t suppose this book will be treated with half the seriousness of Messud’s, but I found it much more compelling, and with much more to say.

The picture is from Cornell University and shows a parenting class in the 1920s.

10 comments:

  1. Less enticed now than I was previously.... keep it up! You know I don't really need more books.

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    1. She's only written 2 so far - it wouldn't have overloaded your mountain!

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  2. Moira - Oh, now that is interesting. A thriller that also gives us a look at real life - at daily human interaction. And those 'joys?' of parenting do ring true. Sounds a more complex story than I'd first thought.

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    1. She's a very clever writer, with brilliant observations: I really think she transcends the genre.

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  3. Although I really enjoyed this author's debut Alys Always, I thought this book was outstanding. Her ability to pull out those tiny domestic details without derailing the pace of the book was superb. I think this book is one of those you could read again and find more to enjoy even though you already know the ending.
    http://cleopatralovesbooks.wordpress.com

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    1. Yes I agree Cleo, and am so glad to find someone else who has read the book and liked it as much as I did! I think she is such a talented writer, and I hope she'll be writing books for years....

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  4. Sounds better and better. However, I did buy The Cuckoo's Calling at Costco today, so I don't think I can seek out other books for a while. Just keep her on a list.

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    1. Cuckoo's Calling is long! And if you like it there'll be Silkworm too.... but do keep Harriet Lane in mind for the future.

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  5. Adding Harriet Lane to my reading list. I was not familiar with her...thanks!

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    1. I really recommend her Susan - one of the best new authors I've read recently.

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