Friday book review – Her by Harriet Lane

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 27th June 2014

Harriet Lane HerSecond novels are notoriously difficult to write. Novelists pour their heart and soul into their debut books, often taking years to complete them, then panic at the thought of having to do it all over again.

But Harriet Lane‘s second novel doesn’t read like that at all. Her is so beautifully written, so fluent, so beguiling, that I suspect the words flowed out of her head and straight on to the page.

Like her first book, Alys, Always, Harriet Lane’s second novel is set in middle class north London. This time round she puts the stresses and strains of new motherhood and female friendship under the microscope. But instead of focusing solely on the domestic minutiae of Islington she melds her story into a gripping psychological thriller.

Successful painter Nina and chaotic new mother Emma meet by chance (sort of) when Emma loses her wallet and Nina finds it (sort of). Ice-cool Nina has a much older second husband, a tricky 17-year-old daughter and a penchant for wearing Prada. Emma, who has a two-year-old son and is expecting her second baby, is more likely to have a stained tea towel draped  over her shoulder, ketchup covered jeans and flour in her hair.

Nina immediately draws Emma into her life, nobly babysitting for her children and even inviting Emma’s family for a glorious summer holiday at her father’s house in the south of France. We learn pretty early on that the women’s paths have crossed before but Nina is the only one who remembers. Emma remains blissfully oblivious to the fact that her sophisticated new friend is harbouring a lifelong resentment for something that happened when they were teenagers.

As the story progresses, Harriet Lane ratchets up the tension – so much so that in amongst the wonderfully observed descriptions of Emma’s post-Christmas visit to her ghastly in-laws, Nina’s brittle relationship with her father and the heart-stopping moment when Emma’s toddler wanders off, we are genuinely fearful for Emma.

Her is subtle, insightful and utterly absorbing – a fine second novel by a very talented writer. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Her by Harriet Lane (Orion, £12.99)

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