“Waiting for something horrible to happen is almost more draining than it actually happening.” – Erin Kelly, HE SAID / SHE SAID
HE SAID / SHE SAID by Erin Kelly is a psychological thriller that takes place in the shocking aftermath of a crime and explores the repercussions faced by the couple who step forward as witnesses. I’d heard amazing things about the thriller and it was all over my Twitter at one point. Kelly has written a few other crime fiction novels but I’d never read them or heard about them (though they are popular). After reading her latest I’ve resolved to get to her other books as soon as possible. I’ll try to keep my review as obscure as possible, because I think it’s best to go into this book sans expectations.
The story centres around Kit and Laura, a couple that witness a rape minutes after experiencing the 1999 eclipse at Lizard Point in Cornwall. They’re there because Kit is an eclipse enthusiast and he’s been chasing eclipses since he was a kid. Fast-forward to 2015 – Laura is pregnant with twins and living with extreme anxiety, and Kit is on his way to Faroes Island for the opportunity to view the eclipse, but he keeps looking over his shoulder because what happened in 1999 is haunts them. Laura knows she was right to speak up as a witness but the duo continues to live in fear. What is it that they’re so afraid of? Can you ever know the full picture? Is it ever possible to fully determine the truth?
At the heart of this thriller is the classic “he said/she said” case. In this type of case the accuser and the accused offer different versions of the same event. The verdict of these cases are apparently highly dependent on the credibility of the witnesses. This is where Kit and Laura enter the picture, and their involvement puts everything at stake, especially their peaceful future together. HE SAID/ SHE SAID is told from the perspectives of Kit and Laura, in present day and in flashbacks from 1999, a narrative threat that follows the events surrounding the case.
Writing and Experience
It was difficult for me to get through the first 100 or so pages of this psychological thriller, and I really thought that the hype was misleading, but I rarely DNF books so I decided to push through. The slow and tedious beginning gave way to an intricately written tale that I got completely immersed in. After a certain point I found it difficult to put down the book because Kelly drip-feeds details that absorb into the tangled layers of the story, adding to the disturbing atmosphere at its heart. I would say that if you feel the beginning is too slow, you should try to patiently get through the slow-paced bits so you can discover the disturbing reality of the flawed and complex characters. Whenever I felt like I understood the characters and where story was going I was given a detail that made me question everything.
Kelly’s writing is stunning, especially for a thriller. There were sentences that I had to reread because they evoked such strong feelings in me, especially in terms of the damage that one human being can cause on another. She builds suspense through her characters and gives you enough incentive to keep you curious. But I was really surprised by the emotional depth in this story, like this particular paragraph:
He removed my glasses in answer and I looked with naked eyes at the coal-black ball in the sky. I knew all the theory, I knew I was looking at vast promontories of hydrogen gas, but as I stood there I could think only in terms of gods and magic. The corona danced, a living golden flare twice as big as the sun itself. A star is not an angel but a monster. It was so huge that it made everything that had happened to us, everything we had done, seem tiny. Regret, guilt, and fear melted away.
Eclipses and the Ending
The ominous nature of the eclipses is a brilliant backdrop and metaphor for the novel. The movement of the moon plunges the world in shadow, and the darkness of the day is similar to the characters confronting their own shadows and the darkness within them. Parallel to the eclipse, the characters become eerie, mysterious entities capable of darkness. And similar to an eclipse HE SAID / SHE SAID teases and then ultimately plunges into a shocking and hair-raising ending. I actually had to read the finale twice because it was just so sinister and brilliantly executed. It’s what truly convinced me that Kelly knows how to lead the reader into unexpected twists and turns, while making us believe we know the truth. I also loved the way Kelly described eclipses and their affect on the viewers.
Title and Unreliable Narrators
I think the title can be a little misleading because the thriller moves beyond the tension of the he said / she said style court case. It’s a story that measures the weight of the lies that are told and the truths that are concealed. As I waded deeper into the murky unfolding of events I realised that I didn’t know who I could count on for the truth. In this aspect, the unreliability of the characters was a strong point. So if you love thrillers with unreliable narrators, you’ll love this one. There’s a lot of unpredictability, unsaid things and hidden motives that you can’t know about.
Overall, I think this is an intense thriller that builds slowly and is character driven. HE SAID / SHE SAID will cause you anxiety on behalf of the characters and their story will capture you in its grip until you have no choice but to reach the ending. What makes it stand out in its crowded genre is the unique backdrop of eclipses and the naturally ominous feelings they inspire. Would this story have worked under different circumstances? Maybe not. HE SAID / SHE SAID is an emotionally fraught story of rape, anxiety, trauma and the lingering dread caused by lies – it’s well worth the emotional effort.
Trigger warnings: rape, anxiety and panic attacks.
Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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