He Said/she Said BY ERIN KELLY



“The el­e­gant plot­ting is near in­vis­i­ble amid the rich in­te­rior lives on the page”

As a metaphor in a crime novel, an eclipse has a cer­tain res­o­nance. In Erin Kelly’s sixth book, her char­ac­ters are kept in the dark about cru­cial de­tails – much like the reader. Yet the facts would seem to be in­con­tro­vert­ible: a wo­man has been as­saulted dur­ing the to­tal so­lar eclipse of 1999 at a grungy fes­ti­val in Corn­wall. A young cou­ple, Laura and Kit, wit­ness the rape and af­ter­math – a twist of fate that will af­fect their lives for the next 15 years. He Said/she Said con­fronts you with that stark and dis­turb­ing scene, fol­lowed by the trial sev­eral months later. The har­row­ing na­ture of the case is com­pounded by the in­sen­si­tiv­ity of the slick court re­porter and the ag­gres­sive de­fence lawyer. Kelly’s writ­ing on this dif­fi­cult sub­ject is pow­er­ful, while the court­room scenes cap­ture the cold-sweat anx­i­ety of the vi­tal eye­wit­ness. She ex­cels at le­gal minu­tiae too.

But there’s a key in­gre­di­ent that makes He Said/she Said such a stun­ning psy­cho­log­i­cal crime novel: doubt. Not the pro­fes­sional ques­tion­ing of a de­fence lawyer or the sex­ist stereo­typ­ing, but Laura’s slow­burn­ing un­cer­tainty about the ap­par­ent vic­tim, Beth. The first‑person nar­ra­tive switches be­tween Laura and Kit, go­ing back and forth over the years. It’s clear early on that Beth has some­how be­come a threat and the cou­ple are fear­ful enough to change their names, move house and avoid so­cial me­dia – the stalker’s friend.

The false rape al­le­ga­tion is a bold and pos­si­bly con­tro­ver­sial con­cept, though Kelly is too good a writer to fall into crass and pre­dictable B-movie ter­ri­tory. The el­e­gant plot­ting and sub­tle with­hold­ing of vi­tal in­for­ma­tion are al­most in­vis­i­ble amid the rich in­te­rior lives on the page. Kit, a sci­en­tist by train­ing, is more com­fort­able with facts; Laura is more imag­i­na­tive, which has fu­elled her anx­i­ety about the ev­i­dence she gave in court. Both of them are in­creas­ingly para­noid about the wo­man they tried to help.

Cru­cially, Kelly makes her char­ac­ters en­tirely be­liev­able by fur­nish­ing them with recog­nis­able lives – jobs, IVF and sta­tus anx­i­ety in north Lon­don – rather than just a bun­dle of mo­tives to drive the plot. When the truth fi­nally emerges from the dark­ness, the im­pact on the cou­ple you’ve lived with over 15 years and 400 pages is al­most un­bear­able.

Kelly’s best nov­els tend to in­tro­duce a group of ide­al­is­tic yet flawed char­ac­ters whose fates are some­how bound to­gether, re­sult­ing in ter­ri­ble con­se­quences and good old­fash­ioned sus­pense. She’s done it again with this grip­ping and im­por­tant book.

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