image Her: Harriet Lane

This is a dark, compelling and downright creepy story told by two women in their mid-forties who live a couple of streets away from each other in North London. I absolutely loved Harriet Lane’s debut novel Alys, Always and in Her she again creates scarily manipulative female characters, women who are fast becoming her trademark. Former journalist Lane cleverly gives us the same scenes from very different perspectives, each of the women taking the reins a chapter at a time to give us two very different versions of the same story. I think this technique works really well as you are never quite sure who to trust or what each character knows that the other doesn’t. The author does a great job of mirroring life, how we can all be in the exact same scenario but see it from scarily different viewpoints.
Emma is a stay-at-home mother of two, trapped in the chains of a messy house with her three-year-old Christopher and her newborn baby Cecily. Lane paints a vivid picture of domestic life, complete with the spilled milk and the toys littered all over the floor. Lane is a master of detail, she drops spellbinding lines in that reveal the depths of her character’s minds – one that stuck out for me was Emma’s reference to “all this buttoning and unbuttoning,” a line taken from an anonymous 18th century suicide note that she takes as a reflection on the drudgery of domestic life. All this is in complete contrast to Nina, the chic artist with a grown-up daughter (Sophie) and two marriages under her belt. Nina is the antithesis of Emma: she is well put together, delicate, sharply intelligent, whereas Emma feels as though her life has become an endless cycle of bedtimes, bath times and play times and her former freelance career has faded into nothing.
Lane’s writing is so deliciously subtle, she drops hints into the book like breadcrumbs and manages to create a disturbingly high amount of tension without anything overly dramatic happening at all, which makes it all the more frightening (for me, at least). Nina’s manipulation is horribly done; she infiltrates Emma’s life as the generous stranger, beginning with the moment she ‘returns’ Emma’s ‘dropped’ purse (we then find out that Nina stole it from Emma’s bag just so she could give it back to her).
We as readers can only watch as poor Emma falls under Nina’s spell – an invitation to Nina’s holiday home is an exciting gift, the offer of a babysitter for the children one evening gives Emma and her husband Ben the chance to have their first night out in months, but it also gives Nina access to their house (which she tidies, adding to Emma’s overwhelming sense of inadequacy).
Many people have criticised this book for its ending, but actually I liked it; Lane does not spell everything out for the reader but what she does do is set up a scene so horrible that we are left to speculate, which is almost worse.
As Nina circles Emma (much like a well-dressed predatory animal)Β  Lane builds up the sense of foreboding, and the ignorance of Emma and her family to Nina’s real motives is excellently done. I perhaps wanted a little more detail on the event that sparked Nina’s desire for revenge (won’t spoil it here) – but other than that, this is a very intriguing read that stays with you long after you put it down.

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