An unsettling but memorable debut, Alys, Always is about the unsentimental art of social climbing.
Frances Thorpe is a lowly sub editor, an ‘unsung hero’ who works on the literary section of a profit-hemorrhaging national newspaper. She is the unremarkable voice of the thirty-something single city girl; not particularly happy, with slim chance of progression and the social whirl of her twenties extinguished to an ember, she ‘exists’ in her one-bed flat in north London. But fate has a funny way about it, and one night, when driving back to London from her parents’ house in the country, she is the sole witness to the aftermath of a car crash on a deserted road.
Hurrying towards the scene on foot and not knowing what to expect, she is met by a small voice coming from the driver’s seat of the Range Rover, which asks her to stay. What she doesn’t realise is that the dying woman is Alys Kyte, the well-to-do wife of a literary superstar: the Booker Prize-winning Laurence Kyte.
As Frances is drawn into the grieving process of Alys’s family, who ask to meet the woman who was with her when she died, she is allowed access to a world that has previously existed above a glass ceiling. The glitterati of the literary scene convene to pay their respect to the Kytes at various catered memorial services, and Frances has tasted something she quite likes. She strikes up a friendship with the Kytes’ daughter Polly and weaves her way in to the family by acting as a solemn, omnipresent part of the furniture.
As the narrative develops we realise Frances may have bigger plans, and what follows is a meticulously plotted effort to ensnare the Kytes’ friendship to better her position in the London literary world, which Lane describes with a humorous accuracy. This is the story of ‘the other woman’ – the antithesis of Du Maurier’s Rebecca, this ambitious nobody leaves her fingerprints on the lives of a family in grief and haunts a household in mourning. An original idea and a promising debut from Harriet Lane.