Judith Sullivan is a financial journalist who lives in Leeds but hails from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris.
I liked Gone Girl as much as the next girl, here. But I do wonder how long the trend for he said/she said narratives will last. There has to be a finite nature to the thing, in my view.
Her spins the formula on its head just slightly by telling the story in alternate she said/she said pockets of the full story. It works, with the dribs and drabs of information from the past appearing alongside the development of the story today. The big reveal, while not as shocking as some similar twists, is a surprise.
In Her, two women Emma and Nina are neighbors in North London. Both are about the same age and of the university-educated, Guardian-reading, Labour voting ilk that populate many such novels. Emma, in my view, is the more interesting and nuanced of the two, a permanently shambolic, overstretched, chasing the candle at both-ends mother of a young lad Christopher and of newborn Cecily. She is married to the kind but also harried Ben. Once embarked on a promising career in journalism, Emma today spends more time fretting about day care schedules than television scheduling. She befriends the glamorous Nina by accident – or so she thinks and is quickly flattered into a friendship, which she Emma perceives as stemming from happy coincidence.
Nina is a painter, with a teenage daughter Sophie and an older second husband Charles. On the surface, her life is a dreamscape from an abandoned Richard Curtis script in which Nina would ideally be played by Emma Thompson. To the outside world, her world seems just peachy, with financial stability and artistic freedom both in plentiful supply.
But we the reader quickly learn that’s just gloss. Nina harbours seething fury at Emma’s character that in Nina’s mind will not rest until she has carried out her revenge plot. The fact that Emma never notices how carefully plotted are the little crumbs that keep leading her back to wicked witch Nina is believable up to a point. Thankfully, that point is the end of the book, much more of the endless coincidences would not have worked as Emma is frazzled and not an idiot.
Nina is clever, engineering with exhausting precision chance meetings and linkages that are not at all up to chance. And wisely, Lane avoids making any of those events so scary Emma might decide once and for all that Nina was a bad luck charm. For instance, one of the first big tussles comes when Nina “finds” little Christopher in a park where Emma feared she’d simply lost sight of him. A certain amount of disbelief needs to be suspended for the reader not to wish to the kid would just say “But it was Nina who first moved my pram!”
It’s creepy in a way that reminded me of that 1992 schlock classic Single White Female in which Bridget Fonda’s roommate’s obsession with Bridget becomes much more sinister than a sort of hero worship with a devastating outcome. The finale to Her is not so much dramatic as anti-climactic but it is satisfying even with no blood or guts spilled. Nina’s psychological profile as laid out in the last few pages mostly rationalizes everything that proceeds the denouement. Some readers might take issue with why she was so intent on harming Emma in the ways that she did, others will find it fits neatly. I am personally on the fence and enjoyed the journey towards discovery sufficiently not to be overly troubled with why it started.
A solid beach read, which will cause most readers to think twice before embarking headlong into a new best buddy arrangement without checking the person out first.