I review He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly.
The path of every eclipse can be predicted from now until the end of time.
Kit and Laura, young and in love, pledge to travel the globe and see as many as possible together. They have no idea of the darkness that will follow.
At a festival in Cornwall, in the hushed moments after the first eclipse they share, Laura interrupts a man and a woman. She knows she saw something terrible. But the man denies it. Later, in a panic, Laura tells a little white lie – which changes four lives irreparably.
When the victim turns up on their doorstep, the truth seems to vanish ever further into shadow. As gratitude spills into dangerous obsession, Kit and Laura simply have to run.
But they can’t hide forever. With another eclipse on the horizon, the past is closing in on them again.
Telling Kit the truth will cost Laura her marriage. But keeping the secret could cost them both their lives.
And the person they fear the most knows exactly where they’ll be…
It’s really hard to put my feelings about this book into words, which is strange for a book reviewer, but He Said/She Said is truly an engaging, disturbing book.
He Said/She Said, & this review, contains descriptions of rape.
He Said/She Said is a psychological thriller, based around a rape trial. While in Cornwall for the eclipse of 1999, Laura and Kit stumble upon a horrendous scene: a man, Jamie, raping a woman, Beth. (The scene is described in detail, so approach with caution.) Jamie attempts to laugh it off, trying to convince Laura and Kit that they’d interrupted consensual sex, but Laura stands firm, and the police are called.
The case goes to court, which, as anyone who knows anything about rape cases, is rare in itself (around 80% don’t get to that stage). And Jamie is convicted. Proof that the criminal justice system works! you might cry. Around 58% of rapists were convicted in the UK between 2015 and 2016 [source]. An increase, for sure, but still not good enough.
Laura was the only eye-witness to the rape, with Kit several paces behind her. She describes what she saw, and how Beth was too shocked to speak. The cross-examination is brutal, with Jamie’s defence team tearing into Laura and her story.
‘Are you a feminist?’ the defence barrister asks Laura. ‘I believe men and women are equal,’ Laura replies. And therein lies a huge fault with modern feminism – that so many people misunderstand the definition of feminism. Feminism is, at its core, the belief that men and women are equal. Laura also comments internally about Beth’s “wild” hair having been tamed for the courtroom, and how her now-evident muscles might work against her as a victim – as if the victim’s appearance should have any impact on the outcome of the case. It shouldn’t, but it does.
Beth is described as mad – by the court, by her rapist, and, eventually, by Laura and Kit. After the trial, she begins to visit them, staying on their sofa, and pushing her way into their lives. Laura feels a connection with her – a sisterhood – but Kit is concerned from the outset. He’s worried that, if Jamie manages to appeal, their friendship with Beth could be misconstrued. (Later, we discover that Kit’s concerns aren’t quite how they appear.) Beth crosses boundaries, and after an argument, which ended with Beth storming out of their flat, Laura and Kit wake to smashed glass on their stairway, which injures Kit. Then, when their flat is burned down, Laura and Kit barely escape with their lives. It seems they pushed Beth too far, and they run, marrying and changing their surname, moving house, staying off the grid. Beth tries her best to catch up with them, but they manage to evade her. Until 2015, where it all comes to a head. And all isn’t quite as it seems.
He Said/She Said is told in present tense, with a series of flashbacks to Cornwall, and the trial. This was of telling a story leaves the reader confused, full of half-truths and misconceptions. Is Beth mad? Was Jamie guilty? What’s really going on here? On the surface, this is an excellent psychological thriller, told expertly by Erin Kelly. But it’s so much more than that. It’s an exploration of our ideas of rape and consent. It’s a current, poignant story, and, sadly, a necessary one.
One part of practicing ntersectional feminism means appreciating that some people are privileged, while simultaneously being oppressed by the patriarchy, and that we all have a duty to help those who may be “worse off” than us. I’m oppressed because I’m a woman, but I have white privilege. I come from a working-class background, but I’m well-educated, and certain aspects give that away. ‘You’re a highly educated woman; an upper second-class honours degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies, lest we forget.’ The defence barrister used Laura’s accomplishments and education against her during the trial. She accused her of confabulation, and tore her to shreds. Laura’s actions after the trial might confuse or anger you, but think about it: would you stick your neck out for somebody else in such a way? How many of us would turn a blind eye to an act of rape, brush it off as consensual? How many of us blame the victim – alone at a festival, drinking, what was she wearing? Really, what did she expect? I’m a loud, angry, unapologetic feminist, but would I really give my entire life over to another woman, to help her secure the conviction of her rapist? I’d like to think so, but it could easily go the same way as this story: threats, intimidation, violence. Would I be prepared to risk life as I know it to help another woman? It’s a question even the firmest of feminists should ask themselves. Because, in He Said/She Said, no woman can win, just like in real life.
A clever, current novel. Kelly is talented and writes with expertise. He Said/She Said will make you think, and question your own morals.
He Said/She Said is due out in April 2017.