Her by Harriet Lane

At the start of the year, I signed up for Penguin Books’ “Peguinspiration” and decided that I would strive to read a fairly modest seeming 30 books in 2015. As of February I’ve already given up on one novel, completed another a few days ago and started a third. At this rate, I’ll struggle to manage half of the number that I thought I would easily achieve. Maybe it’s the type of books I’m tackling. I loved what I read of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall but found it fucking tough to get through after a long day at work. The writing was beautiful and the story complex and engaging. However, nobody wants to be faced with a fucking 50 page chapter before they go to bed. So instead, I picked up an altogether trashier sounding thriller that I could get out of the way in a week.

Following the publication of her second novel, Harriet Lane is fast becoming known in the literary world for her clever and exciting domestic thrillers. Her debut, Alys, Always went over well with critics so her follow-up had to deliver along the same lines. Heris the story of two women living very different lives who somehow come together to form an awkward and questionable friendship. The novel presents the narrative from the women’s individual perspectives where each of their views of events is presented side-by-side. I imagine this dual point-of-view format will draw many comparisons to the ever popular Gone Girlbut, as someone who still refuses to finish Flynn’s massively successful novel, I won’t allow myself to fall into such an uninspiring trap.
Emma is the weary mother who gave up her career to raise her young children whilst struggling for money, time and happiness. She is part of a tough marriage with a distant husband and niggling feelings of inadequacy. Nina, on the other hand, is a successful artist who lives a satisfied existence with her older husband and teenage daughter. Nina enjoys the kind of independence and wealth that Emma can only dream of. After Nina comes to her rescue on several occasions, Emma is thrilled to have this sophisticated woman as her new friend.
However, all is not as it may seem on the surface and Nina hides a deep secret in her past that bubbles to the surface when she meets Emma. The pair have met before but only Nina remember this shared history. Throughout their continued acquaintance, Nina becomes more determined that Emma will pay for her past mistakes.
The description of Her did appeal to me but I can’t say I ever had any delusions of greatness before I started reading. I mean call me pretentious but I’m never going to think that a book with a neon cover is going to be a fucking classic. However, despite my ingrained pessimism, I couldn’t stop reading. I’ll say one thing for the fairly gimmicky and trite split perspective, it is an easy way to promote continued reading. I found I was always reading chapters in pairs just so I could find out Nina’s thoughts on events. But then I’ve always been too fucking impatient for my own good.
Unfortunately, the book never really seemed to get going. The ‘big’ reveal about Emma and Nina’s past was so obvious and, frankly, fucking boring that I nearly glossed over it completely. Plus, aside from the narrative’s structure, there was little unusual or different about the story. It was painfully obvious what the major twist and dramatic finale were going to be from the first chapter. It was only it’s unassuming length that stopped Her going the same way as Gone Girland remaining unread for ever-more.
There is no real depth to this novel: both in terms of plot and character development. Lane obviously tries to provide psychological reasons for Nina’s behaviour but it just seems like everything is rushing towards the conclusion of her scheme. The explanation as to why Nina goes to the lengths that she does. As I’ve said in the past, I’m all for a good example of female antagonist but I wish they’d be given as much of a chance to shine as their male counterparts. Nina, like so many women in her position, is eventually explained by that tired old adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Fucking Congreve has ruined the literary potential of women for too long!
Without this depth of character, the final events of the book just seem ridiculously over-the-top. At the very least, the ending is a shock but not in the way Lane probably meant. Something that was obviously intended to have some inherent psychological significance just comes out of nowhere.
The narrative unwinds slowly and sedately over the space of a year. Nina’s plan begins as petty acts that only really seem dangerous in the midst the implied threat of worse to come. Taken on their own, however, her terrorism becomes too bogged down in boring domesticity to be taken seriously. Until Lane is in need of a suitable end to her thriller that is. The plot has meandered along for so long that the denouement just feels rushed and desperate. Nina’s scheme escalates in the space of a couple of pages to fucking stupid heights. It’s a fucking absurd ending.
Although, narrative issues aside, Lane’s writing is mostly excellent. The opening pages, where Nina first sees Emma again, are truly wonderful. Her talent lies within her detailed description of the minutiae of everyday life. The way she describes the endless child-related debris that has taken over Emma’s house since the birth of her son. There are moments when the tedious monotony of motherhood becomes a thing of lyrical beauty.
Herwas something I’d had as a recommendation on a certain website for a long time. I’d always been put off by the garish cover but the summary of the plot eventually hooked me in. It was fucking Summer House With Swimming Pool all over again. With Lane’s reputation as a writer in this genre, I was excited by the female revenge story. Unfortunately, though well written and perfectly readable, Her is a thriller that rarely thrills.

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