‘Her’ by Harriet Lane (2015) – 261 pages
Every psychological thriller needs a tagline, and the tagline for ‘Her’ is “You don’t remember her, but she remembers you.”
‘Her’ is the story of two women in their early thirties, Nina and Emma. Emma is a mother with a three-year old son, Christopher, and a baby, Cecily, so her life is chaotic. Nina is also a mother, but her daughter is away at school. Emma doesn’t remember Nina at all, but Nina has sought Emma out because of an incident that happened when they were teenagers.
The chapters in ‘Her’ alternate with first a chapter with Nina as narrator and then a chapter with Emma as narrator, then Nina, then Emma, and so on. It is quite easy to diagnose the main problem with this novel. I suppose the fact that their names, Emma and Nina, are so similar is a giveaway. Their voices as narrator are much too similar. It is difficult to distinguish who is talking at any given time. Neither Emma nor Nina has a distinctive voice, her own interior monologue, which would give each her own personality. In their chapters, there is nothing besides their differing life situations that distinguishes them.
Just for the sake of variety, the author should have given the two characters easily recognizable individual styles so the reader would know immediately who is speaking. As it is both Nina and Emma have the same way of describing things, but this sameness may have been intentional.
Still there are moments of great suspense in ‘Her’. The reader speeds along in desperate fear and concern for the characters. The novel starts out in London, winds up in France, but the locations are hardly relevant as this is a psychological thriller.
I am not one to quickly classify a novel as a Man’s Novel or as a Woman’s Novel. I usually prefer novels that have an appeal to both sexes without overdoing either the man’s stuff or the woman’s stuff. I believe a good writer can get inside both a man’s head and a woman’s head. However ‘Her’ leans toward the Woman’s Novel side. The male characters here are mere ciphers.
But what really makes ‘Her’ a woman’s novel is the language Harriet Lane uses to describe things. I doubt there is a man in the world who would describe a plate of radishes as “the red-deckled alabaster slivers of radish”. There are many other turns of phrase in ‘Her’ that mark it as a woman’s novel.
Although I did have my quibbles with the logistics and language of ‘Her’, as a suspense tale it still works.