Thursday, May 7, 2015

Be careful not to offend

Nina is a forty-something artist living in London with her husband and teenage daughter when she catches sight of someone from her past in Her by Harriet Lane.  The woman she spots, Emma, is a pregnant woman with a toddler.  When they do interact, it's obvious that Emma has no recollection of having met Nina at all.  So why is Emma so memorable to Nina?

The chapters in the book alternate between Nina and Emma.  Often, the same event will be told from each point of view in successive chapters.  It's clear from the beginning that Nina blames Emma for some upsetting event in her past, and that she's out to exact some sort of revenge.

At first, Nina's efforts seem to be just a way to keep in contact with Emma.  While Emma is distracted with her son, Nina is able to lift her wallet out of her purse.  She then calls Emma and tells her she found it on the ground, and offers to bring it around to her house (after carefully inspecting all the contents first).  When she gets to Emma's house, she's rather pleased to see that Emma's life is rather chaotic.  Emma has given up her job in television to raise her children, and her days seem consumed with domestic tasks, none of which she seems to take care of particularly well.  The house also seems rather shabby and in need of repairs.  Nina, on the other hand, is doing rather well both financially and professionally.

Nina's plan to somehow get back at Emma (for what we don't find out until nearly the end of the book) then take a slightly more sinister turn.  She leads Emma's young son, Christopher, away while his mother's back is turned in the park.  Nina then calls the police and says she found the boy on her doorstep.  She then convinces Emma that her daughter Sophie is available for babysitting duties, only to show up for the job herself.  Once Emma and her husband gratefully leave for their date night, Nina can then go through their house at leisure.  She doesn't do anything malicious -- she just paws thorough all their belongings.  And she makes sure young Christopher has plenty to drink before bedtime so he'll be sure to wet the bed.

When Nina invites Emma and her family to spend a week at her father's summer house in France, you know that things will probably hit a crisis point before everyone gets back to London.  All the while, Emma has no idea that she had a past encounter with Nina. She sees Nina as nothing other than a kind, helpful and pleasant friend.

The book sort of meanders along, slightly building tension without actually being "edge of your seat" suspenseful.  I was anxious to find out both what exactly it was that Emma did, and also just what Nina planned to do to get revenge.  Was the ending satisfying?  Well, not really.  Once Emma's big misdeed was revealed, it didn't seem like such a terrible transgression.  And perhaps Nina is just reacting to her daughter getting ready to go out on her own, but it seemed like she had way too much time on her hands.  Still, it was interesting trying to figure out where the book was going, and to see if Emma would ever catch on that Nina wasn't the friendly, generous person she seemed to be.  The main point of the book is interesting to ponder:  your actions, no matter what your intent might be, can easily be misinterpreted by others.

At the same time, as I read the book it seemed *so familiar* to me.  I had the nagging feeling that I'd read it before, but the copyright date is 2015, so I'm not sure which book I'm thinking of.  The story really did keep my interest, and of course, I was thrilled with all the references to places and streets in London!

Final Verdict for Her:   Four Gherkins, for being an interesting look at how people can misunderstand each other

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