Alys Always by Harriet Lane

An intriguing book. Is the first person narrator Frances basically a nice person who just takes advantage of the opportunities offered to better herself, or an extremely cunning and devious manipulator of everyone around her?WP_20160616_002

After Alys dies in her arms, is Frances really scheming to take her place or is she just an opportunist making the most of her situation? Is she placating and soothing situations, much as Alys herself might have done? She obviously loves and envies the lifestyle, and indeed husband, of the deceased Alys. Perhaps her cold social-climbing mother may have influenced her ambitions

Certainly the author has a keen eye for capturing the subtle differences in class and contemporary social mores. These are seen through the eyes of her creation, Frances Thorpe, who has a very acute and detached view of her environment and people.

There is a gradual build-up of unease as we try to work out her motivations. The unsettling atmosphere is intensified by the clever use of the present tense to involve the reader in the events as they unfold. There are no chapters so you are almost compelled to read on.

(Spoiler Alert) There is no big twist at the end but perhaps the simple almost idyllic final scene with the implication that Frances is pregnant, is much more chilling. Perhaps it might lead to a really good, if disturbing sequel revealing exactly what happens to the baby and to the whole family.

So the motives and character of the enigmatic protagonist are unclear but this is a compelling read whether you like her or not.


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