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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extreme People Watching
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...
Published 22 months ago by C. Bannister

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars anticlimactic how d'you do
It's certainly an easy read, and relatively enjoyable compared to most of the junk that's out there. But, chilling, it is not. And for the life of me I can't see how it can be described as a 'psychological thriller'. Thriller? I still wonder whether the whole business might be the Walter Mittyesque daydream of the mousy girl Frances. I had almost read to the end when i...
Published 6 months ago by J. E. Aktas


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extreme People Watching, 8 Dec 2012
By 
C. Bannister (Jersey, CI) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
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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.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful, thrilling, but most important, A GOOD READ, 16 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
First, the book is masterful because the author NAILED the London book scene and the strange creatures who inhabit it. Second, she portrayed perfectly a certain kind of predator who abounds but rarely is the subject of a book. The book is thrilling because you are actually rooting for this heroine since everyone she becomes involved with is really very terrible. I have known so many people from privileged backgrounds like these characters, and again, she NAILED them. And the author holds the suspense together, no mean feat.
Of course, she is greatly indebted to Patricia Highsmith (one of the great mystery writers of all time and my goddess), but I say, don't imitate, STEAL. And Harriet Lane steals from the very best of them.
Mainly, however, it is just so damned good to get hold of a good read, a book you can't put down. So few of them nowadays. Thanks for that, Harriet.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disconcerting, 6 April 2014
By 
Jood (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alys, Always (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. 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
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, Clever, Chilling, 11 Feb 2012
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Hardcover)
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.

4.5 Stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "WE'RE ALL PRETENDING", 24 Nov 2013
By 
Mr. D. L. Rees "LEE DAVID" (DORSET) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
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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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 1 Jan 2013
By 
Love Books "Jessie" (Durham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
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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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars anticlimactic how d'you do, 26 Mar 2014
This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
It's certainly an easy read, and relatively enjoyable compared to most of the junk that's out there. But, chilling, it is not. And for the life of me I can't see how it can be described as a 'psychological thriller'. Thriller? I still wonder whether the whole business might be the Walter Mittyesque daydream of the mousy girl Frances. I had almost read to the end when i realized that nothing was going to happen. No fights, arguments, murders - either attempted or committed. Bloodless. Completely bloodless, just like the protagonist. I did not find her likeable. When she calls Honor "something of a fantasist" I couldn't help but think that this was pure Freudian projection - it's Frances who is the fantasist, isn't it? Cold-blooded, quietly calculating, humorless - and boring. And perhaps suffering some kind of unacknowledged post-traumatic shock which has given her a mild obsession with Alys. But nothing is resolved. Laurence remains a caricature of a man, and the same goes for Frances' cliched parents, and virtually all of the other characters - they are stereoypes. There's no substance to any of them. I feel that Polly is the only character who has any reality or recognizable humanity. And if Laurence had any sense at all, he would steer well clear of Frances, and value his relationship with his children more than with Frances who is, it seems to me, nothing more than a shameless gold-digger, and not a very interesting one at that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderfully written, intriguing novel, 14 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Kindle Edition)
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly enjoyable novel, 29 Nov 2012
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
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Frances Thorpe is a sub-editor on the books pages of a national newspaper; diligent, pleasant, but largely nondescript, she hides a fierce ambition. Events are set in motion when Frances is the only witness to a woman's dying moments, meeting this woman's wealthy and connected family introduces Frances to a lifestyle she desperately craves, and she marshals all her resources and cunning to obtain it.

"Alys, Always" is instantly absorbing and I loved every moment of it. Frances is an unsettling character given her calculating and endless pursuit of her goal, but we can also identify with her and agree with her unflinching assessment of the spoilt family whose life she so covets. The book's themes and its mercilessly drawn but instantly recognizable characters make it reminiscent of The Line of Beauty, and I'm sure readers of that book will enjoy Harriet Lane's accomplished debut just as much.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic story, completely drew me in, 25 Nov 2012
By 
Nicola "nicola_in_southyorks" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alys, Always (Paperback)
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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.
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Alys, Always
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
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