Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Book #13 Her by Harriet Lane


What I like very much about both Harriet Lane's novels, this and its predecessor Alys Always is that they are psychological thrillers with women at the centre. This isn't the fare of a man stalking a woman, or of a spy on the run; but stories very much set in real world terms, in ordinary lives, about the havoc one woman can wreak if she sets her mind to it.

The story splits its narrative between Nina, a successful artist and Emma who had a great career in the media before leaving it to look after her children. Nina encounters Emma and knows at once it's HER, but Emma doesn't recall Nina at all.

The beauty part of Her, is that both Nina and Emma are tremendously relatable to female readers.

At some point everyone in their life has been Nina, a girl dissatisfied with her own life who becomes angered by another girl whose life seems perfect, who seems to have everything you yourself wish you had but who even more gratingly, neither recognises or appreciates their luck.

The world is also full of Emmas, women who sacrificed a career to be a stay at home Mum, and feel themselves slowly disappearing into the monotony of meal prep, and tantrums and Mums and Tots.

Nina inveigles herself into the world of Emma in much the same fashion as Frances Thorpe (Alys, Always) does before her, and as she digs her way through possessions and photo albums whilst babysitting, in many ways this feels like an excess in nosiness rather than anything very sinister.

Emma becomes very quickly dependent on the glamorous Nina, and this too is understandable. Nina genuinely does see the Emma she used to be, and Emma climbs aboard that life raft like the drowning woman she feels she is. But Nina doesn't want to save Emma, Nina wants to destroy her.

The descriptions of daily life, and the human condition in general are very much spot on, at times razor sharp in their accuracy, so much so that as someone who writes myself, I found myself thinking 'but that description is just perfect' and started to envy Harriet Lane's prose skills.

The real jaw to the floor moment is when you discover exactly what Emma did to make Nina hate her so much, to be consumed by a psychopathic need for revenge; and this discovery, just turns the book from a toxic friendship story into something very frightening indeed.

Reminiscent of Notes From A Scandal by Zoe Heller, this book will make excellent beach or plane reading this summer, I suggest getting a copy to stash in your carry-on bag.


Book #12 The Versions Of Us by Laura Barnett

The Versions Of Us

My thanks to the publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson for the complimentary copy of this book

Eva and Jim are students at Cambridge in the 1950's - a minor bicycle mishap causes them to collide one afternoon, and from there romance ensues, OR DOES IT? 

In essence The Versions Of Us is a love story with a Quantum element - the reader is shown all different possibilities occurring at once, in one Version, they meet and marry, in another meet and split up shortly after and in the third option they never meet at all. But which story has the best outcome for the couple? Which version is best, which version do you the Reader love the most?

I loved this book I really did. I loved both lead characters so much. Jim, the would-be creative stifled by family pressure to study Law and have a proper occupation, struck a chord and literally made my heart ache and continuously so; both in the versions he succeeds and in the ones were he makes a mess of his life. The observations around Jim's character in all possible outcomes are perfectly drawn. And in Eva's too. In one life the successful writer, in another, the barely visible wife of a Hollywood star, forced to devote herself to domesticity.

The versions themselves are distinct enough to genuinely BE different. For example, in every Version Jim and Eva have different children. I inhabited all three worlds with the same level of intensity. I was deeply wrapped up in it, and devoted to the idea, that sometimes some people are just made for one another come what may, and the stars which drove them apart will eventually pull them back together.

I have seen this novel compared to 'One Day' a book I didn't much care for, and so I feel like it's almost an insult! This book knocks spots off One Day, it's so much better, so much cleverer, so much more thoughtful and so much more real and believable. Eva and Jim won a place in my heart and the book is definitely one which I will re-read and buy as a gift for others. I want to read it again and read all versions individually just so that I can experience each as a solo story.

I recommend this particularly if you enjoy a love story that is above chick lit fare, or appreciate a love story done in a new way. I also think that those who loved Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life' will love this.

A stunning debut by Laura Barnett, I can't wait to see what she does next 10/10       

Dear Readers

The blog has been on hiatus recently because I suffered a minor burn injury and spent 3 months in hospital, as a consequence I haven't been able to keep up my usual reading pace, I have read roughly 8 books in the last 3/4 months and will be blogging them in the coming days.

My apologies to all the publicists who sent me advance copies of books, I will have the promised books read and reviews up as soon as I can.