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Her by Harriet Lane – Review

Every time I walk past the Wolseley in Piccadilly, I try to peer in, fully expecting to see Frances consoling Polly – two of the characters from Harriet Lane’s first novel Alys Always. I have had dreams about the Kytes’ house, Nevers, she created, so vividly did she depict it.

I was lucky enough to hear Harriet reading at the Bookish Supper Society last year and in the questions afterwards she was asked what her next book was going to be about. She only gave us a tantalising couple of sentences – it was called Her and was about two women. It was about jealousy and obsession; two of my favourite subjects. The suspense has been killing me.

Emma is mother to three year old Christopher and is pregnant with her second. She has given up her job in television to stay at home. Lane expertly captures that essential contradiction of motherhood: how that fierce love and protectiveness for your baby/child can co-exist with the sense of one’s own identity and needs being erased, especially in the early years. Emma is feeling particularly flustered and weighed down by the hum drum monotony of her life when she loses her wallet and a woman, Nina, finds it and kindly returns it to her.

Nina is, in Emma’s eyes, everything she is not. A painter by profession and on her second marriage with a seventeen year old stepdaughter, she oozes poise and privilege. Emma’s husband teases her about what on earth could a woman like that, want to be friends with her for? But Emma is flattered by the attention.

The idea to tell the same incidents from each woman’s respective viewpoints is inspired. Far from being repetitive, it makes for a really queasy, unsettling experience. Things that seemed mundane and innocuous (Emma returning to a tidied up house after Nina has been babysitting, a baby’s crying curtailing a dinner party) are given a whole new chilling slant once you read what really happened.

Very slowly, with Lane masterfully laying subtle clues, it becomes clear that Nina has an ulterior motive for her apparent friendliness and that something else altogether is going on. But what possible grudge could she have? And how far will she take it?

Her is one of those books you really can’t say too much about without giving things away but I devoured it, greedily, in two sittings.

And I was absolutely reeling by the end.

Her by Harriet Lane is published today by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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