Harriet Lane on Her

Harriet Lane, author of the critically acclaimed break-out book, Alys, Always, talks about what inspired her to write her new book, Her.

I’m never sure how to respond when people ask me what kind of books I write. ‘They’re sort of psychological thrillers,’ I might say. Or, ‘Someone described them as crime novels where the crimes are psychological.’ You won’t find any bodies down alleyways in Her or Alys, Always. You won’t find any bodies, come to that. No police tape strung across doors, no screwed-up detectives drinking bad coffee, no alibis that crack at the eleventh hour. Just people living apparently unremarkable lives: going to the office or the supermarket, having people over for supper, taking the kids to the swings.

The thrill for me has been discovering an undercurrent of unease beneath all this: the potential for catastrophe in the domestic, the commonplace, the everyday. It feels like rich and comparatively unexplored territory; a safe way, perhaps, of investigating the things I fear most. While writing Her, I was thinking about friendship, trust, the legacy of adolescence, how one’s identity shifts with parenthood, the concept of home. So no serial killers here, but a different kind of jeopardy.

Her has two narrators, Nina and Emma, new friends whose views interlock and contradict. One perspective, one version of events; then the other. You realise pretty quickly that their views are quite different — in fact, they’re irreconcilable, dangerously so. First person, present tense. You’re up close with these women, right in their heads, inhabiting their worlds in a vivid and immediate way.

Tension and texture: these are the things I hold on to while I’m in the mad, happy fugue of the writing. As a reader, I want immersion, a wraparound world to inhabit for as long as the book lasts; so that’s what I hope to create in my novels. There’s always a little ambiguity, a deciding role for the reader. Why does Nina do what she does? Is she bad/mad/tormented by her own guilt, her own ancient culpability? In this, as in life, there are no simple answers, no tidy double-knotted endings. If you’re after a crime novel that ticks all the usual boxes, you might be disappointed; but if you want something a little different, Her might be worth a pop.

Her is out now in paperback, ebook and audio. You can read an extract here.