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Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: "Her"

HerHer by Harriet Lane

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Her" is a suspense novel about two women. Polished artist Nina recognizes new mother Emma on the street one day, and sets about insinuating herself into her life. She starts by snatching her wallet as Emma grapples with a stroller getting out of a shop. She then returns it in person and goes from there. Clearly, she has something bad in mind, all the while pretending to be Emma's new friend. Emma, for her part, doesn't remember Nina.

Emma *needs* a friend. She has a toddler and a newborn, and is doing all she can just to keep up and not collapse from exhaustion, let alone do much of anything for herself. Lane depicts her situation extremely well, but one things is missing: until almost the end of the book, there is no hint of any joy in motherhood for Emma. In fact, the entire cast seemed to me to be sour, judgmental, resentful and constipated. At one point, Emma's husband remarks about a novel he is reading, that he doesn't *like* any of the characters. Nina is annoyed by this and doesn't deem it even worth responding to. So I will.

Nina doesn't reveal what she's getting even for until late in the book, and when she does, it is something that, while slightly upsetting in the moment, is something that any normal adult would have grown up and gotten over years ago. Not Nina. No, despite having money, a husband and a teenage daughter, as well as a successful career as an artist, she sets out to systematically torment Emma mainly through a series of cruelly petty things she does to her young children on the sly. What 40 year old woman does things to tiny kids because she is resentful about something that happened more than 20 years ago? Not fun to read, and not even really suspenseful until the very end of the book. It kind of meanders along for the longest time.

As for the writing, Lane is continually launching into these long listy descriptive sentences that are all right at first, but become really irritating the more she does it. No one in this book just walks down the street. No, they have to notice EVERY little detail. It's like being stuck in a car with an acquaintance whose stories have wayyyy too many details, until you just want to throw yourself from the moving vehicle or else shake them by the lapels and scream "get to the point!"

Then there's the endless Britspeak. "Demob"? I was having to Google the Briticisms every other page. Plus, she assumes her reader knows all about London, and mentions things and places without any explanation at all, so I was frequently at a loss as to what she was talking about.

The worst, though, is just the sheer joylessness of the entire book. Nobody seems to really like anybody else very much. They sit around and silently judge each other for trifles, and although Emma is less this way than the rest of the characters, even she only seems to see the worm's eye view. Throw in the demented Nina out for blood to avenge what wasn't even a trifle, and it's enough to send anyone running for the antidepressants.

I just didn't *like* your novel very much, Harriet. Does that annoy you? Good, because your novel annoyed me.

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  1. I've noticed this all-prevailing mood of grey apathy and a sense of petty evil smothered in that sort of intricate, list-making detail, where you sort of feel the writer groping for 'art' in her work, in a lot of modern British mysteries. I had to stop reading a very fine writer, Elizabeth George, because her series just became so pedestrianly depressing. I blame several modern influential and successful British mystery authors for this, who in order to be arty, slipped from what is to me the real imperative of detective/mystery fiction--that people read it to be entertained by character and a well-turned puzzle, not depressed by the misery of others' fictional lives. These authors took what Agatha Christie, or even Conan Doyle, did lightly and with such charm and have tried to make it 'serious' and full of 'real life' in all its sordid details. And so many writers in the modern vein seem to follow suit. I don't read them any more either. Great review, as always, Shay.

  2. I hate over-descriptive writing, too. If the details aren't integral to the story, leave them out.(Perhaps she was just trying to pad her wordcount?)

    I hope Harriet reads your post. Maybe it will make her next book a bit better...

  3. As we say in Hawaii: GEEVUM! (give them!)

  4. The novel may be joyless, but your review brought me enormous joy! God, you're funny.


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