55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2015
Never before have I been so compelled to leave a book review for a book that I haven't enjoyed, although to be honest that is an understatement from this book.
For a book that is hailed as a thriller and likened with a book such as Gone Girl, it had such little suspense and a serious lack of plot twists or shocks. I was apprehensive about reading this book initially because I'm easily creeped out and I was worried it might have been too creepy given that it's based on a stalker, but there was nothing to fear - Nina is the most friendly stalker ever!
I waited and waited for something exciting to happen and clung on to the hope that a thrilling climax would have made my boredom throughout worth it, but when I got to page 98%, still bored, I realised that wasn't going to happen.
The author is highly skilled in describing places, situations and people but sadly a book also requires a decent plot and this story unfortunately did not have one. The idea was good, the execution was not.
I feel like this is probably really harsh but I'm quite annoyed that I've wasted my time on this book when there are another 50 books on my to be read list that would have been more worthy of my time.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2015
Nina is the glamourous strenger who seems to appear just when struggling Mum Emma needs her. Nina is everything Emma once was - well put together, with a life outside the home. Emma is grateful to be taken under Nina's wing and appreciates the new friendship - but Nina has an ulterior motive. She is determined to punish Emma for something she did.
I very much disliked this book. Nina was ridiculous, like a pantomime villain. I refuse to believe that someone would devote so much time to obsessing over someone for the reason she was obsessing over Emma. Emma was ridulous too - as if anyone would delve so deeply into a friendship with a stranger to the extent she did without really knowing anything. Why didn't she remember Nina? Fair enough, you could forget a face, but names, places, personal items? I don't buy it. Was she not even a tad suspicious when Nina saved the day multiple times? Emma was an idiot.
The constant repeating of discussions and conversations from both characters POV was irritating, and the book felt double the length it was. There wasn't enough character development to differentiate between the two voices clearly, I got mixed up a few times and thought I was reading Nina when I was reading Emma. The women were both weak drips, and the reason why Nina wanted revenge was ludicrous. The ending was horrible and unsatisfying, it made the whole book a waste of reading time.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2015
HER is a novel about toxic female friendship. When successful artist Nina spots harried mother Emma, she immediately remembers her from an incident in their past, and sets out to befriend her. Emma has no memory of meeting Nina before, but is drawn to her glamour and sophistication, never realising that Nina has ulterior motives all along.
It's a real page-turner, and very unsettling - I found it utterly chilling to read about Nina's subtle cruelties towards Emma, and her insidious destruction of her life. Emma is cleverly portrayed too, and it's a good insight into the lives of many middle-class women who give up their jobs to have babies. But, like so many psychological thrillers, so much rested upon the big reveal of their shared history. When this came, it was a complete let down and really undermined Nina's characterisation. For me, it ruined what had been a very intriguing read.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Like some of the other reviewers here, I loved Alys, Always but found this a disappointing second book. All the acidic sharpness, the subtle uncovering of Frances' ruthless manipulation and determination has instead been turned into what has become a standard genre: the domestic gothic where Nina's obsession with a past `secret' spills over into Emma's present.
I liked the set-up of this book but felt drowned in domestic minutiae. The story is told through the two voices of Nina and Emma but they both sound exactly the same with no nuances of voice to distinguish them, and as they often tell the same events the story feels repetitive: this can work when one person's narrative reveals new things about the first person's, or something about the narrator but neither of those happened here.
It's a fictional trope that people hold onto tiny events from the past and, eventually, wreak their revenge on the unknowing perpetrator - but I'm afraid I just wasn't convinced by it here. The past event is so insignificant in the world of the book, the `revenge' so out of proportion to what has gone before.
So this is very similar to books by people like Erin Kelly, Julia Crouch, Louise Millar and others - I really wanted to love this but though there are moments of domestic menace I'm afraid this didn't live up to the promise of Lane's first book.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2015
When I finished this book I made a noise out loud, halfway between a shriek and a groan and my husband came running into the room thinking I'd seen a spider (Yeah I'm a big girl now, but those nasties terrify and disgust me)
It was the sound of, "nooo, don't leave me here", It was a noise of "OMG" and it was a signal of smug satisfaction, of "I kind of knew something like that was coming" and best of all it could be described as "WHAT THE .... ??"
I was given my copy by a friend, who thought I'd enjoy it. It was totally my cup of tea.
A story of 2 women, Emma the hassled, busy Mother battling with motherhood and always feeling she never quite makes the mark, Nina, successful, mother of a teenager, much more well off, older husband well organised nice home, both women seem a little lonely, neither are particularly likeable but I could easily relate to both of them and their frustrations.
Nina enters Emmas life in the guise of saviour, more than once coming to the rescue at just the right time. Emma is only too pleased to have someone show an interest in her and her chaotic life, and her gratitude and relief are palpable. It’s that easy for Nina to worm her way into Emma’s world and gain her trust, for Nina does it on purpose, she remembers Emma from a long time ago yet Emma has no recollection of this. Nina has an ulterior motive – one which is not purely based on friendship – Oh my goodness no!
We soon begin to see Nina in a different light, she is calculating and cold, has a dark and sinister side, and grows increasingly more evil throughout the book. Yet of the two women I actually admired her the most. She made my blood run cold yes, but I kind of admired her determination to right a perceived wrong she has let fester in her mind over the years until it has consumed her.
It builds quite gently from a story of friendship and everyday life, with a creeping sense of unease into a scene of “Domestic Noir” and we know we are hurtling towards a clifftop and can’t stop!
Reminiscent of Louise Millars excellent “The Playdate” this book explores the theme of female friendship, grudges and secrets and reminds us that we shouldn’t always take everyone at face value. Do you really trust your friends?
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'?