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Alys, Always: A Novel Hardcover – June 12, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Highly entertaining... Howards End meets All About Eve... A breezy, lacerating first novel.” (Jonathan Dee New York Times Book Review (cover review))

"A taut debut." (Susannah Meadows The New York Times)

“Harriet Lane writes with style, wrapping her suspenseful debut in lovely bits of gently creepy description, as well as delicious social critique… a fast, sharp read.” (Mindy Farabee Boston Globe)

“A deft and lively brain-twist of a thriller for which the only word that seems apropos is ‘spellbinding.’” (Julia Keller Chicago Tribune)

"Controlled and precise, Lane’s writing bewitches with its undertones of implied meanings and carefully hidden secrets. This is a gem." (Kirkus (starred review))

“Fabulous... I gobbled it up in one furtive sitting. It's crafted with the merciless but accurate observations and the lean elegance you find in Anita Brookner at her best... Like its narrator, Alys, Always is unforgettable” (Deirdre Donohue USA TODAY)

“Lane’s wry debut delves into the political machinations of London’s literary scene.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Mesmerizing... a slow-burning psychological novel that unsettles and satisfies in equal, tantalizing measure—a literary All About Eve that stands testament to the old saying that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” (Lucy Scholes The Daily Beast)

"This novel begins with a bang and delivers all sorts of surprises, but manages some accute and moving observations.. .A very fine debut. Lane works out her dramatic premise with great originality." (The Times (UK))

"Wonderfully observed...This is a gripping, psychologically complex achievement, whose greatest success is its lingering sense of unease." (The Telegraph (UK))

"Exceptional... In Frances [Lane] has created a character Daphne du Maurier might have been proud of: vulnerable, manipulative, resourceful, chippy, but one of us." (Financial Times (UK))

"This chilling and accomplished debut is in classic Ruth Rendell territory. Crucially, the author knows the trick of what to leave out, and of how to tantilise." (The Independent (UK))

"A superbly disquieting psychological thriller... Lane is a formidable wordsmith, and the literary world is conjured up in all its delicous, gossipy hierarchy.... Mordantly funny, yet chilling, this tale of an ordinary woman inveigling her way into a position of power is compulsive reading." (The Spectator (UK))

"Superbly, even poetically written with an almost feverish hyper-realism, this All About Eve for our times misses no telling detail... A brilliant idea, brilliantly realized. I loved it, loved it. I've run out of superlatives and all that remains to say is that I wish I was you; I wish I hadn't read it and had that pleasure to come." (Daily Mail (UK))

About the Author

Harriet Lane has worked as an editor and writer at Tatler and the Observer. She has also written for the Guardian, the Telegraph, and Vogue. She lives in London, England. This is her first novel.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (June 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451673167
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451673166
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,397,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Frances Thorpe lives alone, socializes infrequently, and works as "an invisible production drone," editing copy for the literary section of a newspaper. She has always been "the good girl: biddable, compliant." One nasty Sunday evening, while driving towards London, she spots an automobile on the side of the road. The woman behind the wheel has crashed and is pinned inside her vehicle. Frances comforts the victim, whose name is Alys, and assures her that help is on the way. Tragically, Alys dies at the scene.

At the family's request, Frances meets with Alys' husband, Laurence Kyte, a celebrated novelist, his son, Teddy, who is in his middle twenties, and his nineteen-year-old daughter, Polly. Polly misses her mother; she unburdens herself to Frances, finding it comforting to bare her soul to someone who will not judge her. The two meet for coffee and eventually, Polly invites Frances to visit the Kytes' Edwardian country home.

Harriet Lane converts this innocuous sounding premise into something disquieting. Frances, the first person narrator, is well-educated, astute, and observant. What comes as a shock is her unbridled ambition and determination to push buttons subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) to get what she wants. She is a schemer who carefully plans her strategies as if she were conducting a military operation. This formerly unprepossessing woman suddenly realizes that everything she wants might be attainable if she manages to play her cards right.

Is it realistic that this formerly subservient loner would suddenly become a master manipulator? Probably not, but it is fascinating to watch an opportunist at work--dropping a sly remark here, an insinuation there, feigning modesty, and carefully concealing her intentions from everyone around her.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's a good thing I'm on vacation, as I read this book in one sitting, staying up far too late last night to finish it. From the first few pages, I was sucked in, as much by the author's descriptive and sometimes even lyrical prose as by the desire to see where the narrator (and main character) ends up.

The writing was so beautiful and evocative, and such a part of the pleasure of the novel, that I had no trouble resisting my usual habit of speed-reading. The author is particularly skilled at conveying place and atmosphere with clever turns of phrase, to the point where I found myself easily able to see and feel the homes in the book, the streets, the people, the weather.

The story is as much about the development of the narrator as it is about what happens to all the rest of the characters. Yes, there are a few holes in the plot, a few questions that are left unanswered. When did Frances' ambitions first take root? What really drew her into the Kyte family's lives? Certain elements of the story insinuate that Frances had a level of interest in the Kytes long before the initial dramatic incident, but we are left wondering. What was her attraction to them? Was it pure ambition? If so, then it would be extremely unlikely that someone with that much skilled ambition would have been content to plod along for the first 35-ish years of her life. The chance encounter that we are supposed to believe propelled Frances to change so dramatically, from a nondescript plodder into a wise and extremely adept manipulative schemer, is just not fleshed out well enough to supply the motivation necessary for such a change. And of course, because it IS such a chance encounter, it feels even more contrived.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the first novel by the author, Harriet Lane and in reading it one must keep in mind the Eve Harrington tale (All About Eve). It is the story of an ambitious young woman, Frances, moving in on an another woman's life. In this case there is a very desirable widower who is a popular novelist and lives in a grand country estate with lush gardens which were created by the late wife and Frances was the last person to see Alys alive. The protagonist works as a journalist for a newspaper that is downsizing, lives alone in a drab flat in London and has nothing to lose and everything to gain by making herself invaluable to the widower and his two grieving children. It takes her a while to realize just how much the grieving family needs her and so she slowly, sometimes unconsciously, befriends all of them and insinuates her way into the family by being, among other things, a sympathetic listener when the subject is the late mother and wife. It is a very assured and accomplished writing debut.
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Format: Hardcover
Alys, Always is a terrific, absorbing book. I read it in two days, and was sorry when it ended. It's rare when you have no idea where a book is going, but this is one of those books. An eerie page-turner, part mystery, all character study. I highly recommend this great small book to anyone who wants a wild ride.
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Format: Hardcover
Harriet Lane's writing brought to mind Ruth Rendell. She has the skill to take what appears ordinary and dissect what is strange and unsettling underneath. The story starts out with a fairly straightforward event: a woman, Frances, comes upon a car wreck and stays with Alys, the accident victim until help arrives. From that beginning, when we empathize with the awfulness of the situation the story begins to take turns we can't fully expect. She visits the grieving family and tells a small lie, perhaps to help them. Or is there more going on?
It was a 2 day read for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Perhaps there could have been more character development , Frances' mother is interesting, but I didn't really understand her and that relationship was probably important in understanding how Frances became what she was. I never really understood what Frances looked like, or even her age and I found that a bit frustrating. That being said l liked the simplicity of Harriet Lane's style. The author doesn't feel insistent about telling us everything and we can piece together our own opinion of what is going on. Alys is also an interesting character though we know only what others thought of her.
The book suggest a doppelganger- how one person can wish to take on another's life. What happens when they achieve that goal?
I think this is a wonderful first novel and I look forward to reading what Harriet Lane writes next.
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