This is another of these books which were massively hyped last year – another one described as the new you-know-what…I only got access to the digital ARC at the start of this year, however, to coincide with the book being released in paperback. I was actually quite excited about it, as it sounded intriguing…”You don’t remember her. But she remembers you…”
It’s the story of two woman, Nina and Emma, who are both about the same age – late 30s, I’d guess, although Nina appears much older, sophisticated and confident than Emma. Nina has, on the surface, an enviable life. She’s a reasonably successful artist, and is on her second marriage, to the easy-going, well-off Charles. She has one daughter, Sophie, who is about to sit her A-levels, from her first marriage. They are financially secure. The only difficulty in her life is her relationship with her long divorced parents. Her mother is still resentful, and can drink too much, resulting in bitter phone calls to her daughter. Her father, however, is a successful composer of film music, and has remarried and has another young daughter – the apple of his eye. Marriage seems to be suiting him better at this stage in his life.
Emma has just started her family, giving up a career in documentary film-making. Money is tight as she and her husband Ben have just bought a bigger house to accommodate their growing family. She has a toddler son, Christopher, and is pregnant with her second child when Nina spots her in the street, recognising her from a long time ago. She engineers a meeting, presenting herself as a Good Samaritan, returning Emma’s purse. As she anticipated, Emma doesn’t recognise her. Then she’s there again, coincidentally, to “help” Emma by finding Christopher when he goes missing in the park. But we know that, in actuality, Nina basically abducted Christopher in order to make Emma look flaky, and her, well, invaluable. From thereon in, a friendship is established, as Nina had hoped. She sees Emma is struggling with motherhood, so helps with babysitting (when she has a good nosy round their house, of course…) and even offers the family the use of her father’s villa in the South of France for a much-needed break.
However, we’re still not told what the “grudge” Nina has against Emma – we don’t find this out until near the end, and it is something pretty small (as it probably had to be, otherwise Emma would have remembered Nina.) But this slight has grown over the years, until Nina blames Emma for everything that went wrong in her early life (which doesn’t appear to be a great deal, to be fair, compared to what some people have lived through! And from the outside, it looks as though what did happen was inevitable – I’m trying to be opaque here, so that there are no spoilers for those who haven’t read it, while those that have will know what I’m talking about!) Emma, though, remains oblivious, until very near the end (despite lots of people throughout the book wondering why her and Nina are friendly, given they lead such different lives.) Then things finally click into place. But has she left it to late to save her family from Nina’s devious machinations? (And she’s very devious; in fact, she probably qualifies as a psychopath!)
This novel is a nice length, being a little shorter than some of the doorstops that are coming out now. It can be slightly repetitive, as we see each scene from one woman’s viewpoint, then the other – for example, Emma worries about the untidiness of her house; Nina comes round and notes the messiness…which isn’t really the biggest deal in the world, given that by now Emma has had her baby daughter Cecily, and as many of us know, your home’s tidiness isn’t the biggest priority when you have small children to take care of. There are some funny, perceptive moments, particularly when Emma and Ben go to stay with his parents, in whose home Christopher runs amok, as it isn’t designed for toddlers, and a new gadget his grandfather is very proud of is destroyed.
But it’s in France that the novel really finds its legs, and the description of the villa and the surrounding countryside feels spot on. Emma gets a chance to relax a little, and enjoy the unaccustomed luxury of Nina’s father’s holiday home, before Nina and Sophie arrive and their holidays overlap for a short time. And, with Emma’s guard down, Nina gets her chance to act…
There’s been quite a bit of debate over the ending, with some liking it, others hating it…I was really irritated by it when I first finished the book, and debated this with FictionFan, who writes much better reviews than me…! But actually, after a day or so’s reflection, I felt it was rather clever, and not what we expect from books. In the West, we like a nice smooth story arc, with some sort of resolution – I think that’s why people struggle with, say, Japanese literature, as things aren’t always resolved in a satisfying fashion, so it can take a bit of getting used to. Harriet Lane can write well enough, that’s for sure, and I felt she did a good job describing the disparity between the two women’s lives (she evidently knows what a “posh” lifestyle consists of, whereas I’d definitely have to guess at that!) If you’re a fan of what appears to be now called “domestic noir”, you’ve probably read it. But if you haven’t and you like these sort of family/psychological thriller books, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Her. Just don’t complain to me if the ending drives you mad!
With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Orion Books for allowing me access to a digital ARC, in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read Her? Or do you like the sound of it? Do leave your comments below; I do love to hear from fellow book addicts!