In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack. She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever. Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear, and while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something, and someone, is always in the dark.
He Said She Said begins in London March 2015, where we meet a young married couple, Laura and Kit Mcall. Kit is what is known as an Eclipse Chaser, meaning he travels the world in search of where one is going to take place, analyses the weather conditions in the hope of seeing totality – the moment where the moon completely blocks the sun from view. Since meeting, he has introduced Laura to the eclipse chasing world. However, Laura is now six months pregnant after IVF and suffering heavily from anxiety, triggered by past events. Kit is leaving her for another Eclipse Festival, which only feeds Laura’s paranoia of the past catching up with them. Laura and Kit have worked so hard to keep themselves untraceable, no social media accounts, no photographs, and even changing their names, but will it be enough to stop their demons reappearing?
Cornwall 1999, Laura stumbles upon a purse at an Eclipse Festival; however her endeavour to find the owner is just the beginning of the sinister events which follow. Laura locks eyes with a woman who is being sexually assaulted by a man, she is sure of it – the expression on the man’s (Jamie’s) face, his snarl and his narrowed eyes, the woman, motionless and unable to speak. Laura ignores Jamie’s pleas of the act being consensual and calls the police, triggering a series of sinister events that no one could have ever imagined.
The chapters in He Said She Said alternate between London 2015 and Cornwall 1999, and also between the characters of Kit and Laura. This can get a little confusing at times but I found that this was integral to the layering of the story, to make you feel torn and confused with the versions of events, and more importantly, who is telling the truth? One thing I really loved about He Said She Said was the focus on eclipses, everything from the chapter headings, to the book being split into parts titled by the stages of an eclipse – which illustrate the progression of the story and the build up towards something big.
The subject at the heart of this story means it’s not always a comfortable read, particularly the courtroom scenes. The issue of consent is centre forward in this tale, with Jamie’s defence implying that if Beth herself did not explicitly say she had been raped, then it was concocted up by Laura’s imagination. Kelly’s attention to detail allows us to see how the assaults affect goes way beyond Beth and Jamie, but also what impact it has on everyone else and how events can be spun and words can be twisted.
In addition to attention to detail, Kelly writes beautifully about the relationship between Kit and Laura. A particular favourite quote of mine is from Beth to Laura “He’d told me the night before what eclipses meant to him, and how it was still and effort for him to take his eyes off you to look at the sky”. I found their relationship to be undoubtedly love and the acceptance that things do not always remain the same after years together. I really liked both of these characters, the love they had for one another, the way Laura shared in Kit’s eclipse chasing passion, there is something extraordinary about them.
This is a dark tale which will make you uncomfortable but unable to keep yourself from turning the page. Kelly has cleverly intertwined a sensitive and gut wrenching topic throughout a gripping thriller plot, which I imagine was no easy feat, but it reads as if done with such ease in He Said She Said. The paranoia lurking within the pages will creep into you as you become suspicious of everyone, and as the truth is purely based on perception it becomes subjective. The only problem is most of the characters do not want to tell the truth at all. Truth means judgement and destruction for some, as do lies to another.
I cannot recommend this book enough; it is definitely going in my top favourite books! It stayed with me for days afterwards, and I had that lost feeling where you’ve finished something brilliant only to not know what to do with yourself. By the end I had to know what was real and what wasn’t, and the outcome left me shocked. Not for one second throughout He Said She Said did I anticipate what was to come. The plot is extremely clever, and the characters are well rounded and thought out. My view changed so much throughout, especially on Beth, my heart ached for her most of the time, and at other times I disliked her. Kelly really knows her craft and shows that perception and someone else’s words could be much further from the truth than we realise.