Monday, 23 March 2015

Her, by Harriet Lane - book review

Her,by Harriet Lane, is a very good psychological suspense novel, and although I think it is flawed, I found it intensely readable. In particular, the quality of the writing is striking. I've read a few good psychological thrillers lately,but this is possibly the most elegant in literary terms. It's in the vein of Gone Girl, in the sense that the story is told from two contrasting viewpoints. In Her, though, both the narrators are female.

Nina is a wealthy woman, who seems to have it all. She lives in north London with her second husband, and her daughter from her first marriage, and pursues a successful career as an artist. However, one day she spots a woman she recognises from her past, someone who harmed her in some unexplained way. Soon, Nina is stalking her.

The other woman is Emma. She is much the same age, but has far less money. She has a small boy, and during the course of the story, she gives birth to a baby girl. She does not recognise Nina, and when Nina befriends her, she is almost pathetically grateful. Nina starts to do unpleasant things (even briefly abducting Emma's son) but Emma suspects nothing. The tension mounts, as we wonder what Nina is going to do next....

Two questions tantalise the reader. What did Emma do that was so awful? And given that Nina appears hell-bent on taking revenge, what form will it take? Unfortunately, in this review, I don't think it would be right for me to discuss what happens. I must say, though, that while I felt that one of the plot strands was strong, the other ultimately disappointed me. I sense that Harriet Lane was trying to do something ambitious and unexpected by making a sort of virtue of anti-climax. A bold plan, and for me, it didn't really work. This didn't ruin the book for me, though.. (Be careful if you check out Amazon reviews, because some people who felt the same as me have discussed the story's ending in detail.) One other cavil is that the voices of the two women are perhaps not sufficiently differentiated.

I'm tempted to read the book again at a later date, knowing how it ends, and understanding better what the author was trying to do. And it may be that I'll feel differently about the climax the second time around.


Sappho said...

I really enjoyed HER, but more as a slice-of-life story (with Nina's sabotage acting as a subplot) than a true white-knuckle thriller. I thought that Harriet Lane did a good job of differentiating the two women's voices -- surely better than, say, Paula Hawkins in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

The pleasures of this novel were unexpected for me. I really liked Lane's description of how the artistic process worked in Nina's mind, from the moment of noticing a visual detail she could use in a painting to the feeling of waiting for the vision to develop into something she could actually get onto the canvas. I loved the chapter describing the hellish weekend at Emma's in-laws. That sort of thing: the everyday, told well.

Clothes In Books said...

The commentator above has outlined the reasons I liked the book so much! I thought the everyday world she did so well contrasted with the creeping unease being created. And I loved the way it played out - trying not to give too much away, but the weirdness, even inadequacy of the motive I found very thought-provoking, it told you so much about the character.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Sappho, I haven't read The Girl on the Train yet, but I agree Lane is a fine writer.

Martin Edwards said...

Moira, this is a very fair point. I suppose one's reaction to the ending is partly a question of expectations.