Tag Archives: Harriet Lane

Paperbacks to Look Out for in January 2015

The MiniaturistSurprisingly, all but one of the paperbacks that catch my eye this January have already been reviewed here which gives my credit card a welcome break, if nothing else. I’ll start with one of my books of 2014: Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, much-hyped before, during and after its publication but deservedly so. Set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, it was inspired by. Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum. A love story, a mystery, a portrait of a great city in which greed, betrayal and corruption seethe beneath a pious Calvinist surface, it’s the perfect winter read.

Set two centuries on, Sarah Moss’s Bodies of Light is very much about women making their way in the world and the challenges – sometimes mortal danger – that they faced in doing so. It’s the story of Ally and May whose mother, intent on helping the Manchester poor, has little time and no inclination to indulge them. In her desperate effort to please her mother Ally finds her vocation while May takes a more rebellious route. It’s impossible not to cheer Ally on as she grows from a fragile young woman into a feminist unafraid to speak her mind.

Next is Anna Hope’s Wake, still with the same gorgeous jacket as the hardback edition. Set in 1920, it shows us awake battered Britain through the eyes of Ada, Evelyn and Hettie, deftly conveying the complicated mess and aching loss of the war’s aftermath. It’s an accomplished, often very moving, piece of work which ends on a note of hope.

Harriet Lane’s Her couldn’t be more different. A fine psychological thriller – hard to avoid those tired old clichés like ‘gripping’ and ‘riveting’ – it’s the story of Nina and Emma told in their alternating voices. Nina recognises the harassed, ragged toddler-toting Emma from her past but Emma fails to make the connection. What follows is a tale of revenge in which Lane expertly handles the tension between Nina and Emma’s narratives.

Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman is a thriller of a very different stripe (sorry). Suffice to say that there’s a flying superhero tiger and another who purrs like an avalanche; a sergeant, wise in the ways of war, longing for a child; a comic-book obsessed, internet-mad boy who seems not to have a family; a volcanic island poisoned by chemical waste on the verge of being blown up to purge it from bacteria; a bomb made of custard powder; good guys, bad guys and a few in between – with a superb twist at the end.

I remember Brian Payton’s The Wind is Not a River most for its beautiful writing but it’s also an intriguing story. Set in 1943, it’s narrated by John Easley – marooned on the Aleutian island of Attu after his plane has gone down – and his wife, Helen, so convinced that he’s still alive that she sets out to find him no matter how hard the journey.

What Was PromisedFinally, the one that I haven’t yet read: Tobias Hill’s What Was Promised which begins in London just after the Second World War and follows three immigrant families across forty years, charting the changes in both their lives and the life of the city. I remember Tobias Hill’s brilliant thriller  Underground  and The Love of Stones which followed three lives linked by one jewel, both of which I enjoyed very much but his later novels have not appealed. The framework of What Was Promised is an immensely appealing one for me and I’m hoping for a return to form.

That’s it for January – a click will reveal a full review on this blog on all but What Was Promised which will take you to Waterstones website for a more detailed synopsis, and in case you’re interested, here are January’s hardbacks. This will be my last post for a week or so – H and I are off to Hamburg to see what we can see. Best wishes for an enjoyable break to all, and particularly to those working in retail or catering – I hope you get some rest.

Her: 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.

HerOut 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.