Alys, Always, by Harriet Lane, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, RRP£12.99, 224 pages
Journalism comes with privileges, not least access to the great and the good. But audiences tend to be strictly controlled and, while being an observer may titillate, it also frustrates. Turning right when you board a plane hurts more once you’ve had a tour of the first-class cabin.
The protagonist of Alys, Always understands this bargain. Poor starchy Frances, bluestocking book-desk drone on a fading broadsheet, is doomed to a life rewriting reviews until a road accident thrusts her into the heart of a famous novelist’s family. Reinvention beckons.
Harriet Lane’s exceptional first novel matches the twisted motivations of Sophie Hannah to the social satire of Amanda Craig’s A Vicious Circle. In Frances she has created a character Daphne du Maurier might have been proud of: vulnerable, manipulative, resourceful, chippy, but one of us.
A book for anyone who has walked along a street in an upmarket neighbourhood and coveted the richness of other people’s lives.