Two women; two different worlds.
Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold. Nina is sophisticated and independent – entirely in control.
When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn’t the first time the women’s paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did.
But what exactly does Nina want from her? And how far will she go in pursuit of it?
I absolutely loved Alys, Always by Harriet Lane – a chilling story of manipulation seen through a distorted lens. At the time, I said I couldn’t wait to see what the author came up with next – so I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of her latest, Her. By rights I really shouldn’t have liked this book – I generally like things neatly tied up when I finish a book, and it’s always more comfortable if you like the characters (at least a little). So why did this one work so well, and overturn my ideas of everything I like about a novel?
From the moment Nina sees Emma in the street, we know that she remembers something from the past – Emma committed a wrong, and has to be made to pay. Whatever it was, Emma has no such memory and doesn’t recognise her. Nina then sets about befriending this woman with whom she has nothing in common – she is controlled, contained constantly aware of the impression she makes, Emma is a mother struggling daily to keep her head above water in so many ways. The construction of the book is exceptionally clever – alternate chapters by both women, recounting developments from their own perspectives. Nina is a real manipulator, cold and calculating – we watch her controlling things, down to her facial expressions and the words she uses, as the story winds up to its inevitable climax.
We don’t know what wrong has been committed to trigger her thirst for revenge – when the revelation comes, it’s a relief but reinforces your feeling that Nina really is quite unhinged. The more we get to know Emma, the more difficult it is to believe that anything she can have done could be that bad – her suffering motherhood didn’t endear her to me, but you just can’t believe she can have done anything to give rise to such hatred. Both characters are wonderfully drawn – through describing their daily lives, these are people you feel you know intimately.
I love the review on Amazon that says “This will be a very good book when she gets round to writing a closing chapter.” I really thought the hanging ending, leaving things to your imagination, wouldn’t work for me, but it was actually quite perfect. After cranking up the menace and tension all the way through, I really don’t think she could have ended it in any other way. And isn’t the imagination sometimes so much more powerful than the words on the page?
Everything I’ve seen positions this book as a thriller, but it doesn’t fit entirely comfortably into that category – its strength for me was in the development of the characters, the psychological exploration, that contrast between the naive and trusting Emma and Nina’s pure evil behind the smiling eyes. I thought it was mesmerising, and a quite wonderful read – I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t wait to see what Harriet Lane does next.
Her by Harriet Lane was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson on 12 June in hardcover and for Kindle. The paperback will be published in January 2015.
Harriet Lane has worked as an editor and staff writer at Tatler and The Observer. She has also written for the Guardian, Telegraph and Vogue. She lives in North London.