Driving home one rainy January night Frances comes across a car crash and an injured woman whom she tries to comfort whilst awaiting the ambulance. A few days later she is contacted by the police – the family of the dead woman would like to meet her for “closure”, but Frances is reluctant to do this feeling there is little point. It is only when Frances discovers that the bereaved husband is a distinguished author she agrees to meet them. In a beautiful house in a desirable part of London she meets Laurence, and his two grown up children Polly and Teddy. Polly very quickly latches on to Frances who becomes a willing crutch; she has seen a life so different from her own humdrum existence as sub-editor for a newspaper, living in a one-bedroom flat, making dutiful visits to her dull, insipid parents. She feels invisible. Having seen how this family lives, she desperately wants to become part of it, and so begins her slow campaign, which begins when she accepts Polly’s invitation to Alys’s memorial. Frances is now in the right place at the right time and, most importantly, being noticed by the right people. Things begin to improve for her.
None of the characters is likeable in this slow-burner of a novel, but that is the author’s intention. Frances, in particular, is calculating and manipulative, determined to worm her way in this life of wealth and privilege. Laurence is weak having shunted all responsibility to Alys when she was alive. Polly and Teddy, over indulged from birth accept everything is life as their right, their entitlement and have no sense of responsibility at all. They move in circles that Frances has probably never even imagined. Having said that, it all works very well and makes for an uncomfortable read, as we’re so unused to female characters behaving in this way. Frances’ ruthless, manipulative behaviour made me squirm.
The writing is very good, the author’s prose is a joy to read; she has a very light, controlled style. I have read \Lane’s books the “wrong way round” having just read “Her”, her second book first, which I think is even better than this – full of tension and menace
Frances, in her thirties, works as a sub-editor on the books pages of the `Questioner'. She lives alone in her north London flat and appears to be a quiet and unassuming person, content to plod along in her job and resigned to the fact that her life is not what she would like it to be. But, underneath, Frances is not resigned or content; she is just patiently waiting for the right moment to change her life to present itself...
One bitterly cold winter's evening driving back to London from her parents' home, she encounters a car that has skidded from the road and is witness to the last few minutes of the driver's life. She later discovers the driver was Alys, the wife of the Booker Prize winner, Laurence Kyte, and when Alys's family ask to meet Frances, in order to ask her about Alys's last few moments, Frances sees this as a possible opportunity to improve her life.
Frances visits the Kytes in their beautiful Highgate home and sees a world of art and privilege of which she would love to be a part. Laurence Kyte, still handsome in his fifties, Laurence's son Teddy, in his twenties, and nineteen-year-old Polly, a rather needy drama student, are all comforted by Frances's rendition of Alys's last few moments and seeing an opportunity to ingratiate herself further with the family, she embroiders the truth somewhat. Whilst sitting with the family over a glass of wine, Frances sees that Polly's neediness might just be her route into the Kyte family; and through Polly, Frances may just find her way to Laurence which, of course, is her main aim.
As Frances becomes more involved with Polly, her boss at the `Questioner' impressed by Frances's friendship with the Kytes, puts some of the more prestigious assignments her way. In consequence, Frances gains entrance into the heady world of the London literati, and this is just where Frances feels she was meant to be. Frances now begins to wonder just how far she can go...
This is a clever, amusing and well written novel; beautifully observed, chilling, psychologically complex and gripping. An excellent debut novel by an interesting new writer - I shall certainly be looking out for Harriet Lane's next book.
An overturned car in Wistleborough Wood, Frances Thorpe first on the scene - only she to hear the dying words of driver Alys Kyte. Frances grows close to the wealthy Kyte family. Can this be the stepping stone needed for her to rise from obscurity at the ailing Sunday "Questioner"? Frances narrates. Is she for real or simply skilfully manipulating? Readers will decide.
Common throughout is the concept of life as a facade. Frances' mother creates the impression of always being so busy. It is all an act. Colleagues at work seem convivial but secretly backbite and fear for their jobs. Smiles at social occasions are but a veneer - such events excruciating, crammed with inane small talk somehow to be endured.
Life's trials are here devastatingly pinpointed, with so much ringing true. For many this may prove an uncomfortable read. Are we there too, amongst people whom happiness eludes? Each day do we go through the motions of matters meaningful, whereas there is a great emptiness?
"A psychological thriller" as the publicity claims? Again readers will make up their own minds. Few can disagree, though, here is writing of a high order, full of telling detail and ominous undercurrents. Despite the wry humour, it is quite disturbing actually.
Alys, Always is a story of chance, with an ambition nurtured, of an opportunity taken and the slow patient deceitful steps to it's achievement. It's contemporary setting is attractive, and the tale written in the first person skates along taking you on a furtive, sometimes delicious and sometimes uncomfortable route as Frances Thorpe, the narrator takes you on the journey. It is rather like someone, you do not like or trust, but admire, and they are guiding you through, letting you know what they are seeing, thinking, plotting, and you are hooked.
Frances, a sub-editor for a London newspaper, The Questioner, is driving back to London, when she comes across a car flipped on it's side. She stops and approaches the smashed vehicle and hears a "sort of muttering." She phones for an ambulance, stays with the car and talks in a comforting way to the trapped woman, whose name is Alice. The police arrive and subsequently Alice dies of her injuries.
Later, she learns that the deceased woman she briefly knew as "Alice," is in fact Alys Kite, the wife of a famous novelist, Laurence Kyte, and there lies the beginnings of a scheme forming in the intricate and devious mind of Frances. For she is quick to observe, the easy, privileged lifestyle of the family and the ways in which she can exploit it utilising that final 'conversation' with Alys.
Harriet Lane has written a suspenseful, compelling and addictive story, which will hold you tight until the very end. She lets Frances tell you most things, but not everything, and creates twists and surprises to keep you guessing. After all, you wouldn't expect Frances to let you know too much, would you?
A psychological thriller, with a clever contemporary view on life, class, and aspiration.
Frances is the sort of person other people don't notice. She's knocking on the door of middle-age, overlooked at work, living in a dull flat and she spends her free time with her parents, who irritate her with their parochiality or babysitting her sister's children. Frances believes she's cut out for bigger, better things. Driving home from a family visit she comes across a crashed car, and Frances realises she can use this as a catalyst to change her entire life.
This is a very well written book and the descriptions of London's literary set are entertaining and I suspect quite true to life. The way the author gets into Frances's mind, her resolute determination to manipulate events and situations to get what she wants are very good. However the book reminded me of other books I read last year with similar themes, including the Mistress's Revenge and the Secrets Between Us. If you liked those, you'll most likely enjoy this one.
One night, Frances Thorpe, a sub-editor on the books page of a newspaper, is driving home from her parents' house when she comes across the scene of an RTA. In the car is Alys Kyte, and Frances ends up hearing her last words before she dies. Later, Frances is put in touch with the grieving Kyte family, widower Laurence, and adult children, Teddy and Polly. and she starts to get closer to them. Frances can see how different their life is to hers and she has a glimpse of what her life could be.
This is a short book, and therefore a quick read, but it's also a riveting read, and one which I was eager to pick up. Frances turns out to be a complex character, one who is more manipulative than perhaps even she realises. In a way I could sympathise with her as she was somebody always in the background, on the sidelines, and I could understand why she wanted to be with the Kyte family. On occasion I cringed at her behaviour, but somehow I could still take to her and didn't find her to be an unpleasant character.
I loved this first book by Harriet Lane, and I look forward to her next one. Alys, Always has a quote on the cover that refers to it being a psychological thriller. It's not a thriller but it's definitely a book which is all about the psyche and Frances being able to insinuate her way into other people's lives to find herself a new life of her own.
Great stuff, highly recommended.
Frances returning is returning to London and her job on the books page of a failing newspaper when she comes across a car that has crashed. Before she dies, Frances has a brief conversation with the woman inside, but this moment is the key she can use to change her life.
Frances visits the grieving family with the Family Liaison Officer and realises that the widower is a famous author, Laurence Kyte. From the moment she embellishes the last words Alys said,the scene is set, and Frances turns Laurence Kyte into a project.
As a reader I was unsure what Frances would do next, is she unhinged or just very manipulative? Her observations about family members along with those she meets through work are used ruthlessly to her advantage. Our cunning narrator keeps us informed of the plan and at times I found myself reluctantly admiring her whilst fearing what the outcome would be.
This is a fantastic study of human behaviour, the tawdry nature of networking and ambition but ultimately a fantastic read.
on 14 June 2014
The beautiful language in 'Her', Lane's second novel, intrigued me to get hold of this, her first. I read it in 24 hours. It is vividly written with rich sensory detail and the occasional, welcome, snarky wit.
It's been touted as a thriller, which is a shame because it certainly isn't one. It's a subtler, more credible cuckoo-in-the-nest tale of a woman who, bored of her own life, inveigles her way into a new one when extraordinary circumstances present themselves. It reminds me of the novels I loved 20-30 years ago by Muriel Spark or Margaret Drabble which I thought booksellers had stopped recognising as gripping.
What I loved most about this novel was how it was perpetually not what it seemed or what I expected it to be. If you analyse what Frances does, the majority of her actions are kind - she visits the family after Alys's death, supports the daughter, and at the end, engineers a reunion between the estranged family members. But she exacts her own specific rewards for all of this.
Her more reckless or brutal actions are easily credible - I've heard of far less being done in the throes of love - her light finger keepsakes, her accidental admissions - these are human touches, human frailties - most of us are guilty of something along similar lines when highly stirred but injected with a detached, methodical lack of emotion, they are so cold blooded. How Frances behaves seems chilling but she is no worse than those around her - all equally self-serving, back stabbing and greedy for life's prizes. The difference is, they have been trained from birth to act with egotistical abandon. There is something almost innocent in the machinations of Oliver or Mary, with whom Frances works at Questioner and of Poppy and honor, the young women whose lives Frances enters. Whereas Frances own hard nosed behaviour is learned through observation and when she belatedly puts their behavioural style to the test in her own life it is with (for her) pleasing results.
Her reward is a pyrrhic victory. She gets to become one among them, gets to tame one of them and claim him as her own. Not much of a catch, as she is dimly, uneasily aware in later pages of the novel, but nevertheless, a better life than what she had before.
So no, this is no thriller. It is a quiet, subtle examination of a mouse with sharp teeth - a great character portrait, stylish and compellingly written. If you wonder where those intelligent novels disappeared to which are wonderful shrewd observations of human life, the domestic forensic - this is one. I can imagine it becoming a classic - it so neatly defines a mood, an era, a social set with a way of life that is taken for granted by them while others look on in mystified envy.
A remarkably good read, this novel begins with a young woman, Frances, driving home and seeing the aftermath of an accident where another car has ploughed into the forest. She immediately stops and calls for an ambulance, but there are long disquieting minutes until it appears. Inside the car all she can see is a woman's arm, but she is evidently alive and talking fitfully, and even makes a joke about just having had the car cleaned. But, as Frances finds out later, she dies in the ambulance.
Frances works for a literary magazine as a sub-editor. She's a bit of a dogsbody, cleaning up the mistakes of less punctilious writers on the staff. As such she hardly moves in the same circles as the family whose mother it was who died. She is invited to meet the family and tells a white lie, saying that the dead woman told her to tell everyone that she loved them. The Kytes, consist now of the father, Lawrence, a successful writer, Polly, his daughter and Teddy, his son. Polly takes a shine to Frances and she is invited to various events which take place over the summer. Her connection with the Kytes moves her subtly up the social ladder and she is promoted at work. Frances, in fact, is quite coolly working her way into another world, where she doesn't have to live in her grotty flat in a downmarket neighbourhood.
Will she be successful, or will she be found out? How long can the connection with Polly be counted upon? What can she find out about Lawrence's past? How can she make herself indispensible to this well-heeled family? Read this book and find out. It's a brilliant and compulsive psychological chiller.
on 29 December 2012
Frances Thorpe lives a modest and uneventful life in North London. A thirty-something and single sub-editor on the books pages of a struggling newspaper, she spends her humdrum days at work and passes solitary nights in a shabby but comfortable flat. She has few close friends and her family don't understand her.
Driving home one night from her parents' house in the country, Frances happens across the scene of a terrible car accident and hears the last words of the victim before she dies. As the last person to speak to her, the police ask if Frances would mind meeting the woman's family to provide some closure in their mourning period. Her first instinct is to steer well clear, but her curiosity is piqued when she learns that Alys was the wife of Laurence Kyte, one of the country's most well-known literary darlings. She stops thinking about the emotional comfort she can provide to the Kyte family and instead begins to consider how ingratiating herself with the Kytes might benefit her social life and job prospects.
Frances is such a terribly Machiavellian character - but I loved her! I always thoroughly enjoy reading about characters who appear dull and innocuous to the outside world but are actually wickedly perceptive and manipulative. Frances is a masterful introvert and uses lots of careful listening and the occasional well-placed casual phrase to beguile those around her and wrap them around her little finger. Her cunning is so subtle that the reader is often left wondering how much of her relationship with the Kytes occurs by chance and how much happens by her own clever design. Her ultimate goal is never clear and the ending came as a complete surprise to me.
The novel is short but very well-written and peppered with witty observations of British life. I recognised the privileged Polly Kyte in several acquaintances from my university days, and smiled at Lane's hilarious descriptions of Frances' parents and their Middle England lifestyle.
When I hear the phrase 'psychological thriller' this is not necessarily a book that would spring immediately to mind, as the pace is slow and there is little 'action'. If you read it expecting a thriller in the traditional mould you might be disappointed. But let me tell you, while I was reading the final few pages there were hairs standing up at the back of my neck with anticipation of how it would all end. There could be a Frances in my life pulling all my strings and I would probably never know!