Friday book review – Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 6th April 2012

Snow, gridlocked traffic, hosepipe bans – the lead-up to Easter hasn’t exactly been cheery this year. In lots of ways I’m quite pleased to be hunkering down at home for the weekend with (hopefully) a stash of chocolate eggs and a pile of good books.

If you’re doing the same in your neck of the woods and are looking for a great read, I can’t recommend Alys, Always highly enough. I’d been interested in Harriet Lane as a writer for a while, ever since I read a moving Daily Telegraph piece about her sight problems. A former staff writer for Tatler and The Observer, she suffers from a rare auto-immune disorder affecting her optic nerve and has lost the sight in one eye.

After losing the journalistic career she loved, Lane decided to turn to novel writing and joined a creative writing class. It was a wise move. In May 2010, the germ of an idea for her debut novel appeared in her head and she began writing. Five months later she’d found a publisher.

Alys, Always is the story of Frances, a lonely, 30-something sub editor on a paper called The Questioner. At work, the literary editor and her bumptious 23-year-old deputy treat her like a skivvy, and at home she leads a colourless, solitary existence where nothing much ever happens.

But one winter evening, as she heads back to London after a visit to her parents, she spots an illuminated shape through the trees. A car has crashed off the road and inside the crumpled wreck a woman is dying. Weeks later, the woman’s family contacts Frances “to meet the person who was there” and she is drawn into their brittle, privileged world – with life-changing consequences.

Alys, Always is a subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel – the sort of book you read in one beguiling go. I can’t wait for Lane’s next.

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane (Orion, £12.99)

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