So I finished one of the novels I was excited to read when last we met. It’s the one called Her, about a woman named Nina who has a mysterious connection to a woman named Emma–a connection that could probably be called a grudge. From the start we know that Nina remembers Emma, but Emma does not remember Nina. We also realize quickly that Nina is not altogether quite right upstairs (she indulges in quite a bit of distanced psychological torture and gaslighting). Emma is simply overwhelmed by her current life circumstances, and in just the right place emotionally to fall into Nina’s traps.
Sounds good, right? Remember? I was all:
Her by Harriet Lane is a novel that eases along, sidling up to you, until it grabs you by the neck in the final few moments. You never reach a crescendo, nor are you desperate to keep turning pages. The reveal, when it comes, seems so small–but to Nina, it is huge. The ending is a flurry of panic and a moment of realization which puts the novel’s events into perspective.
Lane uses a dual narrative, going back and forth between Emma and Nina. But instead of a strictly linear narrative, you see events through the eyes of both characters. After finishing the book you get a sense of how this device really does help reinforce the novel’s ending as well as Nina’s actions. Nina and Emma have distinct voices and well-drawn concerns. When you’re in Emma’s world you feel her annoyances and her disappointments and she’s a lot more sympathetic than when you see her through Nina’s eyes. It’s a good device for getting characters across, along with their first-person voices.
In all, if you’re expecting a thriller in terms of pacing, your reaction to this novel might be more like this, as mine was initially:
But then, the more I thought about it, the more I recognized how insidious the plotting and character development is. You’re not watching a trainwreck or a roller-coaster, but rather a spider building a web. Her is a slow burn attached to an uncertain explosive.
I was reminded a lot of Patricia Highsmith’s early stories when I got to the end. Give those a try for a readalike. Liane Moriarty or Kate Morton might appeal as well, if you enjoy stories where there are secrets to be revealed and dark motivations to uncover. The recent The Girl on the Train, which I talked about here, might also appeal to those who enjoy the narrative voices and construction of Her.