Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Her: Harriet Lane, June 18—25, 2015
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
Her is like an attempt to create a Gone Girl/Notes on a Scandal hybrid, but falls short of both.
The premise is simple. Nina has beef with Emma from way back. When their paths cross again, and Emma doesn’t recognise her, Nina fakes friendship to get close enough to her foe in order to exact revenge.
Quite soon, the novel revolves around two main questions: what did Emma do? and how is Nina going to get even? These two issues are so prominent that not much else happens; much of the content from second to second last chapter detail’s Nina’s plotting and Emma’s cluelessness.
Alternating first person between the women, we get a sense of them circling each other like a plug hole, both getting closer to the cards going on the table. Nina is calculating, catty and bitter; Emma is stressed, depressed and self-conscious. Their voices are strong and very believable. Nina’s is more entertaining thanks to her withering observations, but Emma’s resonates very strongly. She’s the everyman, struggling under the burden of life itself, with the strains and pains inflicted on all of us.
Lane’s writing is at its best when she is casting her eye round the lives of her leads. She has a knack of noticing the mundane, articulating the unspoken feelings so familiar to the reader and the intricacies of life. She knows every inch of their houses – especially Emma’s – and that level of detail adds a raw realism.
It’s at its poorest when she forces an adjective in front of every noun; the pace and rhythm of her sentencing never changes. With Emma in the dark and Nina biding her time, the status quo remains until the final chapter. There is no sense of building tension or oncoming climax. This is worsened by Emma and Nina each recounting their half dozen encounters with each other in very similar ways: the odd useful observation made by the second speaker doesn’t often justify the slowing down of the novel. It’s evident Lane is hoping to create slow-burning, smouldering tension but she does not, in my opinion, succeed.
As the two questions become the raison d’être of the piece, a satisfactory answer is essential. One is shocking – literally gasp-inducing for this reviewer – and the other, a damp squib.
Her is ambitious in its simplicity, with a strung-out plot that doesn’t allow the strong characters to properly develop. Though short it feels dragged out, yet Emma and Nina are so well-formed they could walk from the page.