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.
This book held my attention and I read it very quickly which means it must have been good! It was thought provoking and enjoyable, although the ending didn't happen as I'd have liked (but can't say too much about that!) I would recommend this book if you want something intelligent and fast moving.
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 the story of Frances, copy editor at a literary magazine and generally regarded by all who know her - even her family - as rather insignificant and forgettable. Then one night she finds a crashed car by the side of the road and comforts the dying woman inside until the emergency services arrive; the woman's family want to thank her, and it turns out the husband is an acclaimed novelist. This is just the kind of opportunity Frances has been watching for...
This impressive debut from Harriet Lane has been marketed as a psychological thriller, which I suppose it is...but only in the loose sense Notes on a Scandal (which this book reminded me of) could be described thus. Frances is a fascinating character: seemingly unassuming but secretly watching and waiting, absorbing and analysing everything, quietly simmering with contempt and resentment. She is manipulative and sometimes shockingly cold - and yet, somehow, the reader is able to feel a certain empathy with her; after all, as she points out, isn't everyone 'pretending' to a certain extent?
There is a powerful atmosphere of disquiet and unease throughout, as the reader learns more about the depths of Frances's ambition and plotting, but there are also moments of tension whenever it seems she has been caught out or is about to be exposed. I was unsure whether I wanted her to succeed in her plans or not, and I enjoyed that uncertainty. The book is also beautifully written, with plenty of amusingly waspish asides about the literary circles Frances gradually moves into. My only minor criticism would be that the ending wasn't as strong as I'd hoped; the storyline seemed to be building towards a climax that never quite came about.
I really enjoyed this novel, and I'm already looking forward to reading Harriet Lane's second book. I would certainly recommend it to readers who enjoyed Notes on a Scandal, or anyone who enjoys psychological dramas - but if you're expecting an actual thriller, you may be disappointed.
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.
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.
I stumbled upon this book without knowing anything about it. I am so happy that I did; but so sad now that I have read it and Frances is not part of my days. It was so beautifully written and I feel that every word was very carefully chosen so that I was effortlessly slipped into the World Frances inhabits. I could feel the hairs on the back of neck stand up at various points in the book. I hope she writes another novel as soon as possible. It was wonderful to find someone who could write so well and even though I was desperate to find out what happened next and read it at top speed, I re read parts because they were so wonderfully written.. You should definitely read this book.