An Enigmatic and Unsettling Novel of White Lies

February 6 2015
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I always like a book about books. I like reading about writers. A view into the author’s world intrigues me. In Alys, Always by Harriet Lane, author of the recently acclaimed Her, Laurence Kyte is a famous novelist who meets Frances Thorpe, the last person to speak to his dying wife. He dedicates his latest novel to his wife: For Alys. Always.

Alys, Always begins on a rainy night on a country road when Frances comes upon a car accident. Frances pulls over and hurries to the overturned car. She tries to comfort the driver whose name she thinks is Alice. Frances phones for help and waits. You think, Frances is a good person, a Good Samaritan. You like her. She did the right thing.

But as the story unfolds, twisting down the dark country road, you wonder if you might have had it wrong. You revisit this scene to see if you notice anything else, any clues about who Frances really is, what she is like, and what her motivation is. Because this one event changes the course of her life; from this fatal car accident, Frances becomes entwined in the lives of the Kyte family. Alice, she learns, is Alys Kyte, wife of the Man Booker Prize–winning author, Laurence Kyte.

The Kytes are wealthy, members of high society. Frances is from the dodgy end of London and works as an assistant editor at a newspaper. The Kytes ask to meet her. She hesitates but then agrees. As Frances recounts her time with Alys on that rainy night on that country road, out slips an embellishment. A lie. A small lie, a little white lie about Alys’s final words. It seems like a good thing. It seems like the sympathetic thing. It seems like the right thing, this little lie. You understand why Frances says it. You think you might have as well. But as events escalate, you begin to question this lie. Was it really a slip at all? Or was it the act of an opportunist? You wonder, will this be the last little lie?

The way Frances inserts herself in the Kytes’ family life is subtle and addicting. As she becomes a major fixture in their lives, you begin to wonder how she was able to achieve this so quickly. Is she trying to step into Alys’s place? Far from the Good Samaritan, there’s something a bit sinister about Frances.

Now, this might all seem very vague, but I don’t want to reveal too much of Alys, Always. You should experience each turn, each swerve, and feel the tension of being behind the wheel on a dark country road at night in the rain.

Alys, Always
Harriet Lane

From the author of Her, a suspenseful, assured literary debut that explores the dark side of desire and ambition through one woman's unlikely entry into an elite world and a destiny of her own design.On a bitter winter's night, Frances Thorpe comes upon the aftermath of a car crash and, while comforting the dying driver, Alys Kyte, hears her final words. The wife of a celebrated novelist, Alys moved in rarefied circles, and when Frances agrees to meet the bereaved family, she glimpses a world entirely foreign to her: cultured, wealthy, and privileged. While slowly forging a friendship with Alys’s carelessly charismatic daughter, Frances finds her own life takes a dramatic turn, propelling her from an anonymous existence as an assistant editor for the books section of a newspaper to the dizzying heights of literary society. With her unforgettable protagonist, author Harriet Lane draws readers into a tightly paced tale that careens towards an audacious ending. Transfixing, insightful, and unsettling, Alys, Always drops us into the mind of an enigmatic young woman whose perspective on a glamorous world also shines a light on those on the outside who would risk all to become part of it.

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