- Book: Her
- Location: London
- Author: Harriet Lane
I like London in the lazy grip of August: the empty streets spotted with shade, the grass in the parks turning sparse and yellow, the heat coming in hard shimmering waves off parked cars.
Nina and Emma live close to each other in North London. The former is poised, elegant and sophisticated, the latter runs herself ragged as a fairly new mother of two small children, Christopher and Cecily. Once upon a time Emma was a stunning and talented young woman in her own right (and of course still is!), but being a mum has sapped her competencies and self confidence. All this buttoning and unbuttoning in life and in childcare grinds her down, as every day is a marathon of caring and coping.
Cue Nina. She sees an opportunity to inveigle herself into the chaotic life of her near neighbour. She engineers that Christopher, Emma’s small son, goes missing and that it is she who “finds” him and returns him to his parents, thus deeply ingratiating herself (I did think that the police, once notified by Nina that she had “found” the child, wouldn’t agree to the finder simply bringing him into her local police station in her own time. A blue light to the house seemed more appropriate..but no matter.).
Once established in the family – she even gets to babysit and snoop – she can start to create all kinds of subtle mayhem. Dear old trusting Emma sees nothing but benevolence in Nina’s actions. Dowdy Emma is deep down delighted that someone so talented and beautiful has decided to befriend her, the stay-at-home, yet plucky mouse who is really struggling with life.
Just why Nina is focussed on her insidious pursuit of Emma becomes clear towards the end. The reason, to be honest, is a bit fatuous and thus her motivation for revenge rather tenuous. I found myself thinking, really? The ending is a bit of a let-down and doesn’t really add up psychologically.
Anyway, overall this is a tightly written novel. Interestingly it feels a lot longer than the 235 pages because the writing is packed with detail and is incredibly readable. The style can, however, verge on the florid, it can feel like an evolved style that is often typical of the ‘creative writing’ process.
Overall, I found Her a gripping and immersive read but flawed by the weak motivation and ending. Nina is simply just nasty and mean and Emma rather hapless. Two women who are quite hard work but portrayed with acuity and resonance
Contemporary London makes a decent backdrop and a quick trip to the South of France adds a lot of colour. On the basis of this novel I would be keen to read Alys, Always by the same author, also set in London.