Harriet Lane: Her (2014)


Last year I read Harriet Lane’s Alys, Always and loved it so much that I had to read her new novel Her as soon as it came out. Amanda Craig calls it “Thriller of the Year” and while I might not have read enough of the books that came out in 2014 to confirm this, it’s certainly the best thriller I’ve read so far this year. Take Lucie Whitehouse’s Before We Met and one of Ruth Rendell’s psychological thrillers and you’ll end up with something like Her.

Her has a split narrative. Nina tells one half of the chapters, while Emma narrates the other half. Do you ever wonder what people truly think of you? What they might say about you behind your back? Whether they truly like you or just pretend they do? If you have, and I’m pretty sure, we’ve all wondered at some time, this book will resonate deeply with you as Nina is not so much an unreliable narrator as an unreliable character. She does tell us the truth, albeit in small doses, but she’s anything but truthful to Emma.

At the beginning of the book Nina sees Emma in the street, in London. She hasn’t seen her in years, decades even, and is pretty sure that Emma will not remember her. However, Nina remembers Emma because, all those years ago, Emma did something that Nina could never forgive.

At first Nina doesn’t do anything. She just relishes seeing Emma in a bad place, with one small demanding child and a second on the way. She’s not a young mother and the sleepless nights, the demands of motherhood, have taken their toll. She’s not as gorgeous as she once was. And she’s neither rich nor does she have a career, unlike Nina who lives a life of elegance and wealth and is a succesful painter.

Their paths cross again. This time Nina makes contact. What follows is extremely chilling. Nina befriends Emma, is helpful and kind, but we know what she really feels. Unbeknownst to Emma she manipulates, stages disasters that are just small at first but become more menacing every time.

Reading what Nina thinks and does, followed by Emma’s interpretation of the events, made me feel so uncomfortable. I couldn’t help putting myself into Emma’s place and tried to imagine what it would be like being duped like this. Creepy.

The book is extremely gripping because we constantly ask two questions: What did Emma do all those years ago? and How far will Nina go?

What makes this book even more readable is Harriet Lane’s writing. Her descriptions are fresh and elegant. The only thing that bothered me was the depiction of motherhood. I’m sure it’s stressful to have small children but to the extent this is described here?

The end wasn’t exactly what I had expected but I thought it made sense and it shed another, even darker light on Nina.

If you liked Notes on a Scandal or Ruth Rendell’s psychological thrillers, you’ll enjoy this and appreciate Harriet Lane’s lovely, elegant writing.

32 thoughts on “Harriet Lane: Her (2014)

  1. Fascinating commentary on what sounds like a fascinating book. I have always thought about a story of someone who goes back to take revenge based on an incident that happened years ago. The two different perspectives are make this sound good.

  2. Loved Notes on a Scandal, and you already know that I’m a Ruth Rendell fan, so this is for me. Have you read any Amanda Craig btw? I’ve read two of her novels and she’s fantastic.

    • I know it’s dangerous to compare but I thought in this case it’s justified. I’d be interested to hear what you think.
      I’ve read one of Amanda Craig’s novels and liked it a great deal.

        • Yes, true, when we do it in our reviews but in the blurb it tends to be a marketing strategy. Alys, Alaways is fantastic. This one is too but it’s much more clearly a psychological thriller.

  3. All the reviews for this have remind me that I never got round to reading ‘Alys Always’. I now have both of them on order from the library and given that it is summer and I have more time for reading, every intention of getting through both books.

    • I so hope you’ll like them. I liked Alys always even better because of the atmopshere but this one is much more gripping. Two great books in my opinion.

  4. Hmm. I wonder if Nina is a psychopath or just obsessed? I don’t have children but I’ve seen women pushed right over the edge by child raising – it’s the hardest job around if you ask me. 🙂

    You make the book sound so full of page-turning suspense that I’ll have to check it out. I need to know what Emma did!

    • I’m not going to say much about Nina because everything I’d add would spoil the book.
      It looks like a pretty hard job. I was never tempted – maybe I knew why? No, I think if I had wanted or wanted children, then I’d disregard the warnings like everyone else. 🙂 Still, she makes it sound even worse than I’d expect it to be.

  5. Am I wrong if I say that’s the kind of book that make you go to work with bags under the eyes for staying up too late after a series of “just another chapter”?

    I find books where we see someone being manipulated very disquieting.

    • It’s that kind of book. 🙂
      Totally disquieting. Just to imagine someone would do something like this to me . . . Beinga mother, this would affect you even more, I’d say.

  6. Loved the review. I made pact with myself that every time a book came into the house, another had to leave. That didn’t last very long, though. Hopefully my library has it because now I really want to read it.

  7. Wonderful review, Caroline. This book looks gripping though the main character is nasty. I will add it to my wishlist. I also loved what Emma said about it 🙂 A strange thing happened when I saw the author’s name in your review. I told myself – isn’t Harriet Lane Lord Peter Wimsey’s girlfriend (and later wife) in the series by Dorothy Sayers? When did she start writing books? Well, I was wrong, that was Harriet Vane. But it was nice for a moment to be in that beautiful world between fiction and reality and to think that a writer has the exact name of a fictional heroine 🙂

    • Oh what an excellent misunderstanding. The names are quite close.
      Both of harriet Lane’s books are wonderful but this was even more of a page-turner. The main character is soo nasty. So sly. I hope you’ll like it as much as I did.

  8. Wow–those are quite strong accolades (and comparisons as Ruth Rendell is my absolute favorite and she sets the bar quite high!). When you mentioned her to me before I added her to my library list, but now I see I must request a copy. I’m guessing it is not related to her first novel. Did you like this one better–does it matter if I haven’t read the other?

    • Danielle, I’m sure you’ll like this. The two books are very different. Both standalones. I found the first a bit more literary, less crime. This is still literary though. It was a tad more gripping and will stay more in my mind, i think but I really loved the first as well.
      I’m looking foward to read your thoughts.

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