Of the dramatic plot twists that routinely occur in suspense fiction, one character in Harriet Lane’s Her complains that they are “unsatisfying . . . nothing like life, which—it seems to me—turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it’s easy to overlook.” Lane’s novel, in which a vengeful woman infiltrates the life of an old acquaintance, features many potential shocks. But Her eschews cheap drama, instead building suspense by shedding light on two women’s inner worlds.
The story is set in motion when Nina Bremner, a 30-something artist, spots Emma Nash pushing a stroller down a busy London street. As a teen, Emma wreaked havoc on Nina’s life with a single thoughtless act. Now Emma doesn’t even remember her—but Nina is obsessed. Using a series of staged coincidences to win her trust, Nina finds the once-carefree blonde stressed and exhausted by the demands of new motherhood. Emma is dazzled by her new friend’s air of freedom and effortless glamour. But Nina’s friendship comes at a cost. She’s actually the ultimate underminer, rifling through Emma’s possessions, ruining her dinner parties and even staging the disappearance of her child.
Narrated in turns by the two women, the book subtly conveys the psychological currents that attract them to each other. Emma longs for a break from the endless small stressors of parenting a difficult toddler—“the headlong conscientious dawn-to-dusk rush to feed and entertain and bathe.” Meanwhile, Nina, whose own life isn’t as perfect as it appears, feels a queasy sense of triumph at seeing a former teen queen reduced to wiping up snot. As the two women grow closer, readers wait to discover the true reason for Nina’s hatred—and how far her revenge will go.