Her by Harriet Lane: A very fine psychological thriller

There’s always a niggling worry that a second novel won’t quite live up to a debut as impressive as Harriet Lane’s chilling Alys, Always but I’m pleased to say that Her doesn’t disappoint. It’s a one-sitting, riveting read: a dual narrative as cleverly controlled as a Maggie O’Farrell – queen of that particular form – but with a darker edge.

Her Out shopping one day Nina spots a harassed young woman, toddler in tow, recognising the self-assured teenager she once knew. Emma fails to recognise Nina when she engineers a meeting and a curious relationship begins narrated by each in turn. Nina is an artist, quietly successful and married to an older man, with a teenage daughter from her first marriage. Elegant, polished and collected, she’s everything that Emma is not, ragged with the exhaustion and constant small anxieties of child rearing. Through a series of apparent acts of kindness and contrived coincidences, Nina insinuates herself into Emma’s world until the two become friends. Emma, her confidence ground down by no longer playing a part in the grown up world of work, is flattered and delighted to be singled out by such a sophisticated woman.

Lane expertly handles the tension between Nina and Emma’s narratives. Nina’s small cruelties, cleverly calculated to inflict pain and upset, are revealed for what they are in her own account while Emma picks up the pieces, unaware of her manipulation by her new friend. It would have been all to easy to paint Nina as an entirely monstrous character but she has her own unhappiness to bear as, haunted by dreams of failure and insecurity, she watches her daughter drift inexorably away from her into a world she can’t enter. Over it all hangs the question of what can possibly have happened between these two to have brought about such cold, steely hatred. When the answer comes it doesn’t so much shock as illuminate Nina’s character still further. Not entirely sure about the ending which I’d arrived at some time before reading it but somehow the journey there is the point. It’s a very fine psychological thriller. Lane seems to have carved out a niche for herself in the genre and I’m already looking forward to what she delivers next.

14 thoughts on “Her by Harriet Lane: A very fine psychological thriller”

  1. Lovely review, Susan, and definitely a book for me. I didn’t get it in the sweep for this last edition of SNB, but I will snap up the paperback when it comes out. I loved Alys Always and am now looking forward to this.

    1. Thank you! I remember how hard it was to post all those enticing proofs off to reviewers when I was a reviews editor. I hope you enjoy this one as much as Alys.

    1. Hope you like it, Marina. Best put aside a few uninterrupted hours – once you’ve started it’s hard to stop.

  2. I just read and reviewed this as well. I liked it a lot. I wasn’t surpsied by the ending but a bit puzzled because of the revelation of what Emma did. In the end it shows that Nina might have some more issues than we thought, so I thought it was a great ending.

    1. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it, Caroline. I liked the way that the revelation about Emma threw more light on Nina’s character. It’s a very clever novel.

  3. Great review – I’ve earmarked this to read on holiday in a couple of weeks time. I’d also like to read her first just never quite got around to it. Thanks for reminding me!

  4. Great review! I’ve heard lots of good things about Her so the book’s definitely on my to-read list. I haven’t read her first novel, but I think I’ll have to check that out too.

  5. I’ve seen quite a few positive reviews of this book, and a lot of people seem to be reading it at the moment. It does sound quite chilling. I’m not sure if Her for me, but if someone at the library asks me about it, I’ll be able to advise!

    1. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a one-sitting intelligent thriller, Jacqui. I think she’s a very smart writer.

  6. You all say such good things about “Her” as a fine psychological thriller that I can’t wait to read it. Also, it reminds me so much of the movie with the same title (nothing to do with the book) that I loved so much. Maybe it has to do with the word “her?” 🙂

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