Harriet Lane's debut novel: Alys, Always was an unsettling psychological drama which was very well received, so I was keen to see what the author would come up with for her next book. This second novel: 'Her' focuses on two women: Nina, an artist, married to her second husband, Charles, with a seventeen-year-old daughter, Sophie, from her first marriage; and Emma, married to Ben, with a toddler son, Christopher, and baby daughter, Cecily. When Nina, an attractive and elegant woman in her early forties, sees someone in the street she recognizes, but that person does not recognize her, she is compelled to find a way to become re-acquainted with them without arousing their suspicions. The person Nina has spotted is Emma, a busy mum who, we learn, is missing her interesting job in TV, struggling to cope with the varied demands of being a wife and mother and feeling she is losing herself in the midst of breast-feeding, nappy-changing and sleepless nights. But why is Nina so interested in Emma? And why is she trying to carefully insinuate herself into Emma's life?
Told in alternate chapters from the two main characters' perspectives, we read how Nina cunningly creates situations to enable her to gain access into Emma's life and how Emma, flattered by the attention and wishing her life was more like Nina's stylish, carefree existence, unwittingly allows Nina the access she needs to orchestrate her plan. As we read on, it becomes interesting to speculate on Nina's motivations and to wonder why the two characters' earlier connection means so much to the self-assured Nina, but appears to have been totally forgotten by Emma. But is Nina as self-possessed as she appears to others, especially when her thoughts and some of her actions seem to strongly suggest otherwise? And just what is her grudge against the seemingly harmless Emma? Obviously I have to leave that for prospective readers to discover for themselves.
I found Harriet Lane's second novel an entertaining read, but I should perhaps mention that although it was interesting to listen to the two characters relating the same events from their own perspectives, their accounts were very similar, and this made some of the narrative seem a little repetitive and narrow in its focus; also I would have liked to have learnt more of Nina's back-history and of her relationship with her first husband and her father - both men who helped to significantly shape her life. In addition, I felt that Nina's punishment was in excess of Emma's crime - but I cannot explain further without revealing spoilers. That said, this is a rather unsettling and absorbing tale, well-observed and full of domestic details of motherhood and family life, and one which kept me interested for much of its length. So although I may not have enjoyed this novel as much as Harriet Lane's debut, it was a reasonably entertaining read and I will certainly be interested to see what the author decides on for her third fictional outing.