Thursday, 17 July 2014

Her by Harriet Lane

published 2014




It’s her. I’m almost sure of it.

It’s late afternoon, a Friday towards the end of July…

Quickly I change course, walking over to the community noticeboard and standing in front of it, as if I’m taking an interest in yoga workshops and French conversation classes, and all the time, while the scene unfolds right there in front of me, I’m watching her, nothing the thin matelot top and the rolled-up jeans, the ugly German toe-post sandals they all wear around here, the hair hooked behind her ears.

I watch as she takes something out of her pocket, a tissue or a cloth, and spits on it and bends over the child, wiping its face…

I walk away across the square towards the high street, not looking back… and I’m thinking: Emma. It’s you. I’ve found you. And when I pay for the olives and cheese at the deli, my hands are trembling, just a little.





observations: Alys, Always by the same author was a very very good book indeed: a compelling and chilling yet funny novel, which I described as having a heroine to make your blood run cold. This new one is equally engrossing and beautifully written, though with a smaller compass. Alys showed a whole world in its description of the rise and rise of Frances: this one is more confined, often a good thing in a thriller.

It tells the story of two women: Nina (on her second husband, successful artist, has a teenage daughter) and Emma (given up her job in TV to look after her children, and struggling a bit). They are of similar age, and only Nina realizes that they have met before. They meet and build an apparent friendship: but the reader is getting the story in alternating narratives from the two women, so knows that Nina is up to something very nasty indeed. She wants her revenge for something Emma did, and she is sidling into her life in order to inflict some petty and secret nastinesses, but is she also building up to something more horrific? Well of course she is, this is a thriller. And an absolutely unputdownable one – by the end I was racing through it, late for an appointment, unable to stop reading till I found out what the original triggering incident was, and what was going to happen.

But at the same time, this book is also an acute social comedy about a certain kind of British middle-class life, observed to perfection. There’s the ‘approved techniques for describing summer holidays (imply it was heaven without going into too much tedious detail; make a joke out of … the lack of mixer taps, and the dread anticipation of the next credit-card statement).’ 

There is a wince-making trip to the in-laws, all too convincing; there is the lack of privacy and solitude for a new mother, so much so that she is grateful when a painful medical condition means she gets to go to see the doctor on his own; there is the feeling of a league table of friends – ‘why are they bothering with her?’

I have seen complaints that Nina’s motivation isn’t strong enough for what she does – but I thought that was one of the cleverest aspects of the book. We are used to revenge stories of a certain kind – this one showed something else, and yes, you had to think again about Nina and her life, but I thought that was very satisfying.

I also recently looked at Celia Fremlin, an unfairly forgotten author of great suspenseful novels with domestic settings. Lane’s book is a worthy successor to her. The book is so full of interest that it will need another entry….

7 comments:

  1. I like the sound of both of these, but in all seriousness ought to pass. Looked it up and it seems a perfect length too (something I've heard said once or twice in the past...haha) Sorry! You can delete that last remark.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe you can get to them one day. They are really clever, readable thrillers. (I will ignore the other comment...)

      Delete
    2. Very wise - don't offer me any further encouragement to lower the tone!

      Delete
  2. Moira - You make such a well-taken point about thrillers. When they have that somewhat 'confined' feeling, that can add to the tension. Interesting how even in the bit you shared, I could sense Nina's resentment about Emma, although it's not stated of course. That takes writing skill. And of course, there's that past/present connection - always a draw for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Margot - this book brought together a lot of the strands that I enjoy in a thriller, and the result was really great.

      Delete
  3. This sounds good. Alys, Always sounds good (I had not heard of it before). Both are a good length for me and I will probably get to them sometime. They may be a bit too psychologically tense for me, but worth taking a chance on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do recommend both of them, she's one of my favourite new writers of recent times. Look out for another entry on this one....

      Delete