Friday, 31 August 2012

Book #76 Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

Alys, Always

Taking a break from this years Booker list which I've been rather disenchanted by, I turned to Harriet Lane's Alys Always which Amazon had been recommending to me for some time. I actually read this book really quickly, I had read over half of it before I realised it, so its a real page turner, not just an easy descriptor to use.

In this novel, protagonist Frances Thorpe appears to be a stereotypical loner, single, living alone, visiting her parents on weekends, and virtually invisible in her offices. Quiet, mousey, and uninteresting to those around her, Frances edits copy for the book component of a London newspaper.

One night driving home, she is the first on the scene of an accident and last to speak to the victim, a woman, "Alice", who then dies. This is, at first, an unusual diversion in a mundane life for Frances; but then the realisation comes that the "Alice" in question is Alys Kyte wife of literary giant Laurence Kyte.

What then follows is Frances Thorpe giving those reading her story a total masterclass in opportunism and social climbing as she inveigles her way in to the lives of the Kytes, through deceit, manipulation and flattery.

Frances, seems as you first read her words to be perfectly normal and then you realise by the little things she lets slip and her skewed views on things, and particularly by the way in which she studies the behaviour of everyone around her, calculating how best to win them over, what a sociopath she is.  
I found it a bit tame that the one or two people who began to become suspicious of her were easily diverted or won over, I would have liked her to have had a bit more of a fight on her hands at least once.

It is odd, that though Frances is so devious, you find yourself rooting for her, I think this could be because nobody she's deceiving in her pursuit of better things is that likeable anyway. A modern day Becky Sharp, but without the same vivaciousness, Frances is a dark character  and her closing lines give you the creeps. I did wonder whether Harriet Lane had encountered a Frances type in her own life and whether Alys, Always was an expose or portrait of such manipulative, self interested Talented Mr Ripley type women. 8/10

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