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Alys, Always Paperback – 6 Dec 2012

186 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (6 Dec. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780220014
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780220017
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A marvellous novel. I absolutely adored it... So subtle, funny, tender and so miraculously observed... Utterly brilliant (Jilly Cooper)

Unsettling, unfussy and unputdownable (David Baddiel)

A clever and original story by an amusing and interesting new novelist (Nina Bawden)

Unputdownable (Jenni Murray Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4)

Hugely enjoyable debut about 30-something Frances Thorpe, a lowly sub-editor on the books pages of a Sunday paper who suddenly and unexpectedly comes into contact with the family of a Man Booker prize-winning author - and there sees an opportunity. Barbara Vine-esque stuff (THE BOOKSELLER)

If I could have a novel made to order; like a Savile Row suit, it would probably be this one... Superbly, even poetically written with an almost feverish hyper-realism, this All About Eve for our times misses no telling detail of the difference between the entitled and unentitled classes... A brilliant idea, brilliantly realised. I loved it, I loved it. I've run out of superlatives and all that remains to say is that I wish I was you; I wish I hadn't read it and had that pleasure to come (Wendy Holden DAILY MAIL)

Harriet Lane's Alys, Always is a superbly disquieting psychological thriller...Lane is a formidable wordsmith, and the literary world is conjured up in all its delicious, gossipy hierarchy...Mordantly funny, yet chilling, this tale of an ordinary woman inveigling her way into a position of power is compulsive reading (Leyla Sanai THE SPECTATOR)

this novel begins with a bang and delivers all sorts of surprises, but also manages some acute and moving observations about bereavement and grief. A very fine debut. Lane works out her dramatic premise with great originality (Kate Saunders THE TIMES)

Wonderfully observed... Lane has her landscape forensically mapped. This is a gripping, psychologically complex achievement, whose greatest success is the lingering sense of unease (Sheena Joughin SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

This chilling and accomplished debut is in classic Ruth Rendell territory. Crucially, the author knows the trick of what to leave out, and of how to tantalise...Frances finds herself admitted to the inner sanctum of London literary life, about which the author, who knows whereof she writes, is most amusing... Lovely, sensuous prose (Rachel Hore INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

Harriet Lane's exceptional first novel matches the twisted motivations of Sophie Hannah to the social satire of Amanda Craig's A Vicious Circle. In Frances she has created a character Daphne du Maurier might have been proud of: vulnerable, manipulative, resourceful, chippy, but one of us (Adrian Turpin FINANCIAL TIMES)

Harriet Lane's take on contemporary class is so sharply observed that it becomes almost satirical: the perennial theme of social climbing gets a superb new treatment in her highly entertaining, slightly chilling tale of a cuckoo in the nest (THE SUNDAY TIMES)

Frances is a fascinating creation: determined, deceitful, intriguingly complex and believably drawn...This deeply unsettling but eminently readable story is one that will linger in the memory (THE OBSERVER)

Lane's narrative voice is captivating, absorbing the reader almost immediately and throughout the novel's various episodes of entanglement, separation and high drama...and her characters are quirky and believable individuals. Alys, Always is a fine portrayal of how people deal with loss and learn to accept "the tinpot vulnerability of human existence" (Kirsty Hewitt TLS)

this book really is that rarest of creatures, a sort of literary unicorn: a stunning debut... The writing is tight, it's compulsively readable and brilliantly controlled. Harriet Lane has a deft economy when it comes to recording scenes descriptions and dialogue. It is utterly believable in all respects (Rachel Johnson THE LADY)

Dark, cynical and unpredictable (SUNDAY EXPRESS)

A gripping debut. Frances Thorpe leads a mundane life until the day she stops to help at a roadside accident. But, as this clever novel unfolds, it becomes clear that the seemingly boring Frances is capable of seizing an opportunity (GRAZIA)

Amazing; chillingly brilliant (Lindsay Frankel RED MAGAZINE)

Harriet Lane brilliantly skewers the sycophancy that surrounds the wealthy and successful, allowing their inner circle to bask in the same intoxicating glow. The reader is reeled in hook, line and sinker (Charlotte Heathcote SUNDAY EXPRESS)

a suspenseful portrait of the outsider and a satisfyingly bitchy send-up of literary London (THE GUARDIAN)

Worthy of Daphne du Maurier, this is the book I wish I'd written. (Julie Burchill MARIE CLAIRE)

One of the literary debuts of 2012, Harriet Lane's stylish thriller combines an unreliable female narrator with some sly satire at the expense of literary London. (THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

A brilliant debut novel about a disturbed hack. (Kate Kellaway THE OBSERVER)

Alys, Always is Lane's debut novel. Her ability to build suspense and to slowly reveal aspects of character makes her one to watch. (EMERALD STREET)

Lane's take on contemporary class is so sharply observed that it becomes almost satirical: the perennial theme of social climbing gets a superb new treatment in her highly entertaining, chilling tale of a cuckoo in the nest. (THE SUNDAY TIMES)

A dark and delicious thriller, Alys, Always, the first novel by Harriet Lane, is a book you immediately want to pass on to all your friends. (GOOD HOUSEKEEPING)

This seductive novel is as sinuous, sharp-eyed, shrewd and controlled as its opportunistic heroine - a terrific read. (John Koski THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

Spot on social satire, chilling psychodrama and terrific writing - Lane knows of whereof she speaks. (THE INDEPENDENT)

The novel has the momentum of a thriller but not at the expense of an economical lyricism - there is a lovely assurance to the writing... It is a novel that will unsettle and make your heart dip, long after you have put it aside. (Kate Kellaway THE OBSERVER)

This is a creepy, cold novel in the tradition of Patricia Highsmith. It's perfectly executed. (EVENING STANDARD)

Horror, mystery and romance coalesce magically in this impressive debut. (CHOICE)

A compelling fiction debut about a family tragedy. Patricia Highsmith would be proud. Mysterious and suspenseful (Sebastian Shakespeare TATLER)

Mesmerisingly told (SAINSBURY'S MAGAZINE)

A gripping portrait of the lengths to which one woman will go to improve her lot (WOMAN & HOME)

This accomplished debut is a fantastic read (STAR magazine)

This intriguing first novel, set in the leafy groves of bookish Highgate in North London is a morality tale with a dark sinister undercurrent to rival that of Alan Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty (Tina Gaudoin THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE)

Both clever satire on the (north) London literary scene and compelling thriller worthy of Patricia Highsmith, [Alys, Always] is unshowy and modest... Highly recommended (Jonathan Main THE TRANSMITTER)

It's uneasy but intriguing reading thanks to the accurate illustration of her middle class characters. (BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH)

Harriet Lane's novel of deceit and opportunism proves to be a dark delight. (THE SUNDAY BUSINESS POST)

highly entertaining and squirm-inducing..."Howards End" meets "All About Eve" (INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE)

As this subtle, ingenious, completely absorbing tale progresses, a chilling and uneasy menace develops just below the surface. (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

This is a very concise and acute psychological study, at times drily funny...always expertly observed, perfectly paced and smoothly finished off...a novel of skill, elegance and flair, one in which cool calculation and subtle manipulation move, as a cloud in front of the sun, to chill and unsettle, that suddenly cast shade revealing what in full light had been carefully concealed. What is not hidden is Harriet Lane's talent - this is a brilliant debut! (

Chilling and compulsive, this psychological novel immediately draws you in... Brilliantly crafted and sharply observed, this first novel with its sense of unease and apprehension holds your attention from the beginning to the end. It will stay with you for a long time. (TELEGRAPH & ARGUS)

This darkly subtle debut impresses with its du Maurieresque style. (HAM & HIGH)

An un-putdownable novel that forces you to revise your initial assumptions. (THE DISCARDED IMAGE)

She writes with both elegance and clarity, she balances suspense with acute observation, and she understands her characters, their relationships, the worlds they move in absolutely perfectly. (FLEUR FISHER IN HER WORLD blog)

A subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel - the sort of book you read in one beguiling go. (HOUSE WITH NO NAME blog)

Book Description

An outstanding debut about the reverberations of a family tragedy and its effects on a woman who crossed the family's path. Includes Reading Group Notes.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jood TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 6 April 2014
Format: Paperback
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.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Susie B TOP 100 REVIEWER on 11 Feb. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. L. Rees TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Champollion VINE VOICE on 25 Nov. 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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