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on 13 June 2014
SPOILER ALERT. This review mentions key plot points from late on in the novel.

Harriet Lane can write. Most of her sentences are a pleasure to read, and for that, I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy work for the perfection of the prose alone. She's wonderful on visual detail and puts this to excellent use in the creation of Nina, a painter, whose notations on light and sky really are worth the page space they take up. She's very strong too on that bleak dismantling of personality that happens for so many women when they abandon the life they know to surrender to the gruelling physicality and lack of headspace that descends during the pre-school years of child rearing. She absolutely nails the dark and bitter humour that emerges from Emma in these moments. Her comments on her in-laws are laugh aloud. I ached for more of Dirk and his Sunday supplement gadgets. Haven't read Alys, Always yet but will in the hope that Lane's brilliant humour is present there too. There wasn't much of it in this book and it deserves a wider hearing.

But the plot? Lane is a bit cheeky here. She has a character read thrillers and uses this to riff on the nature of suspense plots where too much happens and the end is far from believable . (So why, I wondered, is the final scene of the novel so utterly, crassly high drama with the ultra cheap trick of putting an innocent babe's life in jeopardy at the hands of a Wicked Woman. Was this an authorial flounce, because agent or publisher demanded higher stakes? It seemed so deeply at odds with the slow, suffocating pace of the rest of the novel) In the riff on thrillers, she has a character comment that it is not great episodes that create the chasms in our lives (my words not hers, I read 'Her' on Kindle and now can't find the exact scene to quote - sorry) but the tiny ones. Yes. This often is and can be true. And such tiny subtle unbuttonings can wreck a life.

But something has to happen. Not nothing. I simply didn't believe that a successful woman who has reached the age of forty, who has a career she loves, a supportive and pleasant if docile husband, a daughter with whom she appears to have a reasonably healthy relationship - not neurotic, not manipulative - that such an otherwise reasonably sane woman would merrily set about destroying a life because her own dad had once looked longingly at the girl. That's it. That's all he did. The novel hinges on nothing else. If I had sought revenge for every lustful, attentive look my own bohemian father doled out to my friends, there wouldn't be a family in tact in the South West of England. To really make such a tiny thing matter and balance a novel on its pinhead, something must then escalate, either in the father's head or in Nina's particular psychosis. But Nina isn't psychotic.

I'd buy that a girl was blissfully unaware of the effect she has on a stupid older man - but the gorgeous, subtle unbuttoning of that family life which Lane could have written so brilliantly (because she certainly has the talent) simply wasn't there. It's as though she ran out of steam before the main course. I began to do that disastrous thing of writing the novel for her - all those delicious, subtle things that could have happened. He could have got weird, as middle aged men can do when a lithe beauty is plonked among them. He could have been the one who collected her bracelet, absent mindedly left, or a strand of her long hair form the sofa. The creepiness of a teen-style crush in an adult could be interesting reading, and they happen all the time. He could have disappeared to write a whole symphony inspired by her, named after her - the one that finally made his name as a composer and ultimately took him away from his family. She'd still have been the innocent, but something would have happened. Instead, well, he looks at her, and then teenage Nina tells her mum, embroiders a bit, a la Atonement, so mum decides she's had enough and off they go in one direction, dad in the other.

It would take a psychosis deep and strong to continue to blame the girl for the family break up twenty five years later. Not to have the self awareness to see her own teenage guilt was the greater. And yes, such psychoses exist. Ian McEwan digs into one in Enduring Love, showing how a misplaced fixation on a minor incident can skew so many lives. And that stuff is gripping reading. And Lane, such a subtle writer, could have done it so well. But she just didn't do it. Nina is pretty ordinary, with a non-existent axe to grind. For her, by the end of the book to be coaxing a toddler to drown because daddy once smiled at a girl? To chart the rationale of such a mind would be a startling, terrifying read. And, puzzlingly, one I suspect Lane is more than capable of achieving. But she didn't. Why not I wonder? Instead, it just gets silly.

I hope this review isn't too harsh, because she writes beautifully and I've just bought her previous novel and would gladly buy her next. I admired and enjoyed her prose, but really hope she's bolder in her plot choices next time round.
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on 23 September 2014
What a shame. I enjoyed the first book - sort of Brookner lite (what's wrong with that?) However 'Her' is (for me) fatally flawed.

The writing is good and sense of place beautifully rendered but in a way this made my disappointment even greater.

Its central premise simply doesn't work. As a result, the inner workings of artist narrator Nina (why are there so many artists in fiction? The Woman Upstairs/ What I Loved are both superior books but also indulge in quite a bit of ekphrasis) and downtrodden mum Emma simply don't ring true. The riffs on new motherhood and envy are good but not unusual. The ivory tower life of Nina reveals none of the cracks that would/should gradually hint at the real 'her'. Both women remain infuriatingly hidden. One can be charitable and argue that this is ok in a first-person narrative where people suppress truths and see what they want to see but try as I might (and I did try having invested time in this book), I felt tricked. As a reader, I had to do too much work to make sense of the baffling denouement. Of course people do all sorts of things, for all sorts of reasons but writers of novels have a certain duty to create a credible world even if that world is made of butter and everyone in it speaks backwards.

In fact for me, the ending is shocking mostly because it has been so poorly set up in the preceding pages. No clues are given about Nina's singular psychological make-up. It's a cheap move and I think beneath a writer as good as Lane.

This will make little sense unless you have read the book but let's just say that the author has given herself the unenviable task of trying to explain one woman's obsession with a person/event from the past that goes utterly unremembered by everyone else and is ultimately slighter than the middle class worries that occupy the mind of the other central character, Emma (see Arlington Park for a brilliant rendering of the middle-class, job-mourning, mewling, newish mummies). I agree with Lane when she gives a character a line about not needing to like characters in a book to find merit in a novel. This is true. Humbert Humbert is a horrifying, riveting grotesque. But "Her' does not want us to understand its characters. We never enter their minds and truly see the world from their perspective - we couldn't or all would be lost for Lane who needs to hold back for her final twist.

The fact that this was a well-written book almost became a fault as I persevered. It promised much but ultimately was just a well-wrapped empty box under the christmas tree.
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VINE VOICEon 7 April 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I very much enjoyed Harriet Lane's first novel, Alys, Always; it is a tightly-written and effective thriller that I would highly recommend. However, with her second novel, Her, I think she has outdone herself. Her is both beautifully-written and incredibly convincing. Rather than amping up the drama with a series of significant events like even the most subtle of thrillers - including Lane's debut - tend to do, Her instead bravely explores a relationship in which nothing of much consequence seems to happen or, crucially, to have happened, and yet rackets up the tension nonetheless.

Like Alys, Always, Her is focused on the interplay between two women; however, this time, the object of the obsession is very much still alive, and narrates half of the novel. Emma once had a high-flying career in TV, but now finds herself submerged in stay-at-home motherhood, chasing after her two-year-old son Christopher while heavily pregnant with her second child. When Nina, a confident and successful painter with a teenage daughter, re-encounters Emma, she realises that Emma remembers nothing of their previous acquaintance. Nina, however, remembers every detail acutely - and she is determined to make Emma pay. However, if Frances, the manipulative narrator of Alys, Always, was, as she put it, 'making pastry' as she inveigled her way into Alys's old life, Nina is making choux buns to Frances's shortcrust, so lightly and imperceptibly does she trouble Emma. Nina's delicate interventions are matched by Lane's precise prose. She's good at both description and social observation. As Nina looks through the contents of Emma's purse, she notes 'A green prescription form, scrawled over with a GP's hurried initials, for an entry-level anti-depressant.' Emma, on holiday, imagines 'my spine unfurling like a time-lapse fern, the spaces between the vertebrae widening and expanding.' It's the details - the entry-level, the time-lapse fern - that make these sentences work so well, and convinced me that Lane is a fine writer as well as a shrewd social commentator.

Ultimately, Her is such an interesting novel because the material with which it is built is so mundane. There are no really gory skeletons in the closet. Instead, we are reminded that the things that matter so much to us, that we can remember so well, often don't possess the same weight for anybody else. Emma forgets everything, struggling to organise her household and her children, but Nina, with a freelance career and a self-sufficient teenager, has time to remember too much. What drives her is not necessarily the seriousness of her loss - which was possibly not that serious at all - but the space she has in her head to retain, and to avenge, her younger self. We all have a 'him' or a 'her', somebody who briefly but significantly intersected with our lives, and, Lane seems to be saying, if we had Nina's time and opportunity, perhaps we would pursue them - although Nina goes further than most of us would go.
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on 22 June 2015
This book could have been absolutely amazing especially as Harriet Lane has the gift of making you want to carry on turning the pages to see what happens next. The two main characters are Nina and Emma - Nina is a successful artist who has a 17 year old daughter though she is divorced from the father and is now married to a successful man quite a lot older than her. Emma is an ex TV person who gave up work in order to have a family - when we first meet her she has a son, Christopher and is pregnant. She is finding life quite difficult as rearing children, however much you love them, is no walk in the park. Throughout the book one chapter is written from Nina's point of view and the next by Emma. Each thing that happens (no I'm not saying what, as you may be about the read the book) is told by each woman so that you see it from two viewpoints. We know from the start that Nina really dislikes Emma but pretends to be her friend so that she can manipulate her and make life hard for her. And though we know Nina has a grudge against her it's not 'til the end of the book that it becomes clear what happened in the past to make Nina dislike Emma so much. Well that's when for me the book began to fall apart - what happened was so inconsequential and so not Emma's fault that I began to think that Nina must be mentally ill, or very very stupid. As Nina behaves and is referred to as an elegant, successful woman with good taste etc etc. the mental illness didn't really ring true, though the things she does are really the products of a very warped, nasty person. I think she must have always been a nasty piece of work as in the chapter where the 'awful' thing Emma has done is revealed you see how cruel Nina was to her Mother - and she was a teenager then. I always thought that one learnt as one grew, well Nina certainly didn't. Despite all this I still carried on reading avidly because I wanted to know how it would end. Well talk about a let down, this is one of the most abrupt endings to a book that I've ever read. Yes up til the last page the drama grips you and then you still don't know what actually happened - maybe she's going to write a sequel and that's why it ended in such an unsatisfactory manner. To me it seemed that Harriet Lane lost interest and didn't know herself how to end the book so left it to the reader to decide. Well I'm sorry but to me it seemed insulting and cynical that after all the build up you're left with a feeling of 'is that it'?
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When Nina sees Emma across a London street, it stirs old memories - and they're not good ones. Engineering an 'accidental' meeting, she's happy to find that Emma doesn't recognise her. Emma, mother of a toddler and pregnant again, is struggling with a life of domesticity and is badly in need of a friend and confidante, giving Nina the ideal opportunity to insinuate herself into Emma's life. But the reader knows from an early stage that Nina isn't the kind, supportive person she seems to Emma. For reasons we don't discover till late on in the book, she's out to have some kind of revenge on Emma - small things at first, but gradually becoming more sinister...

The book is told from the two women's perspectives in alternating chapters. Unfortunately both voices are in the dreaded first-person present tense. I also found that both voices are too similar - while their stories and perspectives are different, their speech patterns and vocabulary are pretty much identical. So apparently are their experiences of child-rearing. I do get rather tired of all the fictional middle-class and fairly wealthy mothers who seem to find child-rearing so difficult and burdensome. Emma is struggling to cope with one child and it's pretty obvious things aren't going to improve when she has to deal with a new-born too. Nina has the typical troublesome teenager, who stays out late and is occasionally rude to her mother. I must say the misery of the two mothers over rather minor things seemed pretty overdone.

The story itself is reasonably interesting, though the device of covering the same ground twice from the two different perspectives becomes really tedious quite quickly. It's been done before and done better - by Gillian White in Copycat, for instance. Again, there isn't enough difference in the two voices to make the re-telling fresh, and we very soon come to know, I felt, how innocent Emma's account would be seen in the next chapter through the eyes of wicked Nina. But from about halfway through the story begins to speed up a bit and the duplication in narrative is reduced. When the action moves to the south of France, Lane gives us some good descriptive writing that creates an authentic sense of place. And although I found the 'children are so hard' angst overdone, she does give a realistic picture of the joys or otherwise of travelling and holidaying with young children in tow.

As the book approaches the conclusion, Lane ratchets up the tension nicely and there's no doubt the ending is suitably thrillerish. No spoilers, but from other reviews the ending seems to be dividing people into love or hate camps - I thought it was well written...but hated it. I didn't feel it worked with the psychology of the characters and I didn't think it matched the overall tone of the book. I think it may be my disappointment with the ending that's colouring my overall view of the book, because for the most part, despite the flaws I've mentioned, I found this a flowing, reasonably enjoyable read, and quite well written. But in the end I felt it was nothing more than a lightweight entertainment, with not enough depth to compensate for some of the weaknesses or to justify the unexpectedly heavyweight ending.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion Publishing Group.
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on 5 September 2015
The narrative is told from the differing perspectives of the two protagonists – Nina and Emma. This lead to some occasional confusion on my behalf, as the story would jump back a little in time. This at times left repetitive, as if the story was unable to progress. Yet this differing narrative of daily life shows how people can interpret the same thing wholly differently.

The extent of Nina’s revenge seems extreme. It does not seem plausible to me that woman who is somewhere in her forties, have a successful character, a kind and caring husband, and a healthy, normal relationship with her teenage daughter; be so manipulative and revenge driven – she seems . Nina’s issue with Emma is for a small slight that seems to have grown bigger as the years progress.

Lane has managed to write this thriller well, and I would give it a higher rating but except for the fact that the reason for this revenge is ludicrous and disproportionate to the crime. Yet this provides a good study of how past events can define us, how we are changed due to the arrival of children. How priorities change. Tension in the book is slowly built as less of the mundane everyday aspects are slowly striped away to show past events and where the future is heading. Why does Nina wish for revenge? How will she achieve her goal? And will Emma ever realise who Nina is?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 October 2015
The story starts intriguingly enough with Nina, spotting a woman Emma, whom she remembers from her past. You don't know exactly what happened between them, only that it was when they were both seventeen and in a village Nina briefly lived in with her parents before they separated. Whatever it was has affected Nina, she has thought of Emma a lot over the years.

The chapters are then narrated alternately by Emma and Nina. Their own lives and how they appear to one another are convincingly described. Emma does not recognise Nina so is describing everything from first impressions, while Nina is preoccupied with Emma and the past, This goes some way to maintain the intrigue especially as Nina's actions become more sinister.

The alternating chapter device seems more like padding as the novel progresses. One character does not pick up the plot where the other left off but more often goes back and repeats the same episode in full from their own point of view. When it did come, the denouement was a let down for me. Nina's motivation seems slight, when you finally learn what it is and the last minute avoidance of a conclusion comes across as lazy rather than mysterious.

It's ok for the commute or a lazy day by the pool but I wasn't blown away by it.
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on 28 March 2015
'Her' introduces us to Emma and Nina. Emma is a mother of two young children struggling with what her life has become and Nina is an artist and completely held together and composed. Nina knows Emma from when they were younger but Emma does not remember her and as a result Nina wants revenge. The concept of the plot is good and sounds exciting but I do not think it is pulled off by Lane. When you find out what Emma did to Nina, you then realise that Nina is completely over reacting and I lost all sympathy with her from then even if she is supposed to be psychotic. For me this is when credibility of the book is lost. The most exciting thing in the book happens on the last page and you do not find out what the definite conclusion is although it is implied. The consequences are not dealt with either which would have actually made for quite good reading. The characters I thought were good until the secret is revealed and then as I have said I lost interest in Nina's character. The book is beautifully written and an air of suspense and anticipation is built up well by Lane but the final twist is so ridiculous that the book is ruined. I had so much hope for this book but it was extremely disappointing.
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on 11 August 2015
This was nicely written and easy to read. My problem was the actual story. The whole premise was supposed to be about.......drum roll...... SOMETHING.....we know not what...... that Emma did to Nina in the past. We can only imagine that WhateverTerribleSin this was occurred a long time ago as Emma seems to have no recollection of Nina whatsoever when they meet.

The supposed menacing atmosphere of Nina being a stalker is pretty much non-existent. I kept waiting and waiting for the story to get on with it, but nothing ever really happened. Emma's feelings about motherhood were very well written, though it made for depressing reading realising just how far down she'd come from the confident, self-assertive person she was pre-motherhood.

When we finally got to What Emma Did...........well........she actually didn't. I can't say more without spoilering, but it was all a bit of a damp squib really.

As for the ending. Words fail. Saw it coming a mile off. All in all nothing much to write home about. I would read this author again if she switched genre. Suspense isn't really cutting it in my opinion. Sorry.
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on 4 August 2014
Very well-written,gripping and clever...but ultimately unconvincing. We needed a much stronger reason for Nina's obsessive hatred for Emma. And as others have commented,the ending was disappointingly ambiguous,and rather spoiled the book for me.
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