Review: Alys, Always – Harriet Lane

Alys Always Harriet Lane review

Alys, Always – Harriet Lane
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012

I’ve read many good reviews of Harriet Lane’s second novel Her, and the plot sounds intriguing so I’m really interested in reading it. Unfortunately my library didn’t have a copy of her latest novel in stock but they did, however, have Lane’s debut Alys, Always so I decided I’d read that until I could get my hands on a copy of Her.

Alys, Always is told from the perspective of Frances, a thirty-something woman who has a mundane and little-recognised job on the book pages of a newspaper. One evening, she is the first on the scene of a car accident and hears the last words of the driver, Alys Kyte. Later, Frances realises that the driver was the wife of a well-regarded novelist and, when Alys’ family gets in touch in an attempt to find closure, she is given a glimpse into a life that is completely different to her own. Seizing her chance, she begins to grow closer to the Kyte family, and her life will never be the same again.

I flew through this book, reading it in a number of days, probably due to the fact that Lane’s writing is engaging and the pacing is good throughout. The aspect I found most interesting, and what I think is most well done in the novel, is Frances’ transformation. Lane’s pacing of the novel works well here to show Frances subtly moving closer to the family and slowly changing from a woman who socialises little and who is rarely recognised for the work she puts in to her job, to a woman who subtly manipulates and schemes in order to get what she wants and gain credibility in the eyes of others.

However, I did feel as if we weren’t given enough insight into Frances’ motives or thought-processes. While I thought that her transformation throughout the course of the novel was effective, when it became clear what she was doing, I felt as if I’d been left out of the loop a little. As the novel is written in the first person from Frances’ perspective, I would expect to have been given more insight into her thought processes. But, then again, this subtlety is a wonderful touch by Lane, almost as if we’re the Kyte family, not really knowing what Frances is doing.

The ending of the book is quiet, but unsettling, and it’s left me thinking for a while after I’ve finished reading. Reminiscent of the subtlety throughout, it’s understated but works well.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s well written and engaging – I enjoyed reading Lane’s descriptions of the Kyte’s privileged lifestyle and her satire of literary London – and the story is entertaining. A promising debut, I’m looking forward to reading Lane’s second novel Her.

Have you read Alys, Always? What did you think? Have you read Harriet Lane’s second novel Her?

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14 thoughts on “Review: Alys, Always – Harriet Lane

  1. One of my book groups has just been invited to a discussion about this next January so I’ve been rearranging our schedule to fit it in as our December read. I hope it really does have a lot going for it. Some of the members of the group can be very unforgiving if they think the writing is substandard.

  2. I have read Her within the last couple of weeks (review soon) and while I could see many good points, overall I found it disappointing. The point you make about the first person narrative is one I wish authors would bear in mind – if we are inside the head of the narrator then it feels as if we’ve been ‘cheated’ if we’re not told everything the narrator knows.

    • Looking forward to reading your review of ‘Her’! I completely agree with you about the first person narrative – feeling ‘cheated’ is a great way to describe it!

  3. Great review! I read this before it was released and reviewed it for The Times Literary Supplement; I really enjoyed it, and think that Lane is a very good author. I’ve not read Her as I’m waiting for it to come out in paperback, but it looks intriguing!

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