Following on from last week's post about a British first edition of The Blunderer, Patricia Highsmith's second novel (under her own name), I thought I'd take a look at one or two other first editions of sophomore novels by female authors, starting with a book by a writer who cites Highsmith's work as an influence on her own:
Her, by Harriet Lane, published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2014, which makes it that rarest of things on Existential Ennui, a new book! (Relatively speaking; it came out in June.) The dust jacket design is uncredited, but taken in combination with the case design:
which is a reversed-out treatment of the jacket title on a bright blue printed PLC – as opposed to the more usual coloured arlin – and the bright yellow endpapers, it's a simple but very striking and effective design overall. Additionally, this particular copy is quite special:
It's signed by the author on the title page, and dated pre-publication – much like my first edition of Lane's 2012 debut, Alys, Always, a quietly brilliant novel which wound up as one of my top ten books of 2013 – hence why I decided to secure a similarly adorned first of Lane's latest. And I'm glad I did; for while Her isn't quite on a par with Alys, Always, it's still slyly engaging, the narrative alternating – and sometimes overlapping – chapter by chapter between the (first person present tense) accounts of thirtysomething London middle(ish) class types Emma and Nina, the former ground down by motherhood and a typically useless husband, the latter wafting seemingly effortlessly through life – a career as an artist, a wealthy architect husband – and yet harbouring a secret grudge against Emma. The nature of that grudge is only made explicit towards the novel's shattering climax; prior to that point it's a guessing game as to why Nina is inveigling herself into Emma's life: to what ultimate and likely nefarious purpose?
The reviews of Her – the reviews in newspapers, I mean; the reviews on the books blogs I've seen (er, like this one...) are as earnestly hamfisted as one would expect – have been largely positive, although this Telegraph one reckons the novel gets "bogged down in slow domesticity". Actually for me that "slow domesticity" is key to the book's success: I found Lane's detailing of Emma's loss of sense of self in the face of the ceaseless demands of her baby girl and toddler boy almost more absorbing than Nina's Machiavellian machinations, although that could be because I have a one-year-old daughter myself.
And something else I was struck by, as with Alys, Always, was a parallel with Patricia Highsmith's work. It's not as pronounced here as it is in Lane's debut, which was clearly influenced by The Talented Mr. Ripley, but even so, in the way in which Emma and Nina become fascinated by one another, there are similarities with how Highsmith often has two protagonists – male in her case – fixate on one another, and switches the narrative back and forth accordingly: see Walter and Kimmel in The Blunderer, Rydal and Chester in The Two Faces of January, Tom and Jonathan in Ripley's Game, and so forth.
Anyway, there are ulterior motives and Machiavellian manoeuvring at play in the next sophomore novel I'll be looking at, a book which I only became aware of in the wake of last year's Jones-Day family holiday to Suffolk.