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Thursday, 2 April 2015

‘Her’ by Harriet Lane

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
15 January 2015.  
ISBN: 978-1-780-22002-4 (PB)

No murder; no violence; no crime at all, in fact. Just the slow, inexorable building of a sense of appalled horror, as the conspirator stalks her prey and inflicts escalating punishments for a past hurt, the nature of which is only elliptically revealed. What, you wonder, will she do next? How far will she go? And why? What is it all about?

Nina is a successful artist with a sophisticated, upmarket lifestyle. Emma is a struggling mother who has given up a career in the media to bring up her two children, and isn’t quite managing. Somewhere in the distant past their paths have crossed, to Nina’s detriment; Emma doesn’t remember, but Nina does, all too well, and is determined to exact revenge. It’s reminiscent of Zoë Heller’s wonderful Notes on a Scandal, though much more subtle.

The unfolding story flips from one protagonist to the other, often recounting the same incident from both points of view, in a way which reveals Nina’s Machiavellian tendencies and Emma’s naivety. On the surface, hardly anything seems to happen: just everyday life in residential London, with days full of childcare, shopping and exhaustion for Emma, painting and clashes with her mother and teenage daughter for Nina. Yet all the while, there’s a growing sense of menace, as a progression of recognizable yet individual characters float across the page and the history between the two women gradually, though never completely, emerges.

It’s beautifully done: exquisitely written, understated in a way which draws you in and keeps you reading. Lane reveals just enough about the past to be intriguing, but never divulges the whole story; it’s up to the reader to decide if Emma’s sin was really heinous enough to merit the fate Nina has in store for her.

The ending is pitch perfect, but that’s all I’m saying about it. This is a book to be read at a sitting; it will keep you up long past bedtime.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

 Harriet Lane’s debut Alys, Always was a You Book Club choice, longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and shortlisted for the Writers’ Guild Best Fiction Book award. Her is her second novel

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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