A Tale of Two Women

Did you get any new books for Christmas? I did, and one of them challenged me to read a genre that I haven't tried much lately. The book is Her: a novel by Harriet Lane and the genre is psychological thrillers.

Set in London, the novel alternates chapters from the points of view of two women who would seem to have little in common.  Nina, a successful, well-dressed and "put together" artist, and Emma, a former television producer who is drowning in the everyday details of life with two small children.

From the first chapter, it is evident that Nina recognizes Emma from the past, but Emma does not remember her. From the second chapter, we know that, instead of approaching Emma directly, Nina has schemed to insinuate herself back into Emma's life by "finding" and returning her wallet, which Nina has herself snatched. She seems determined that Emma not recognize her.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I can report that the reader experiences a growing sense of dread.  What did Emma do to Nina in the past? How far will Nina go to seek revenge, all the while posing as a new and dear friend? The alternating chapters often repeat the same dialog and actions from the other point of view. We know that Nina is bitter and can't believe Emma is so naive and trusting, though we can sympathize with Emma's desire to be appreciated as more than Christopher and Cecily's mother. Lane advances the story with carefully nuanced language about everyday scenes and events.

So am I a convert to psychological thrillers? Not wholeheartedly.  Maybe other readers will say about this book that they "couldn't put it down." I must say that I did put it down for a few days because I could guess where the plot was going (I turned out to be right) and found it disturbing. Yet I recommend it for the clearheaded look at the lives of women and for some of the best descriptive language you will find.

If this book catches your interest, you also might want to read Harriet Lane's debut novel, Alys, Always. 

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