She and I by Hannah King

Reviewed by Rod McLary

She and I is the first novel by young Irish author Hannah King.  Part psychological thriller and part crime novel, the story is set in a small town in Northern Ireland.  Keeley Mackley and Jude Jameson are best friends and have been since early childhood.  They live opposite each other in Wits End, Vetobridge.

The key event in the novel is a simple though tragic one – Peter Denny is found dead after a New Year’s Eve party held in the house in which Keeley lives and where Jude stayed the night.  Pete is Keeley’s boyfriend.  His death sparks a police investigation and – more significantly in terms of the narrative – lays bare the nature of the relationship between Keeley and Jude.

The structure of the novel comprises a series of chapters each of which is dated – as in ‘1st January 2020, morning’ – and narrated by one or other of the main characters: Keeley, Jude, Mack [Keeley’s brother], Linda [Jude’s mother], or Detective Inspector Chris Rice.   Most of the chapters are set in the first few days of January 2020 setting out the immediate consequences of Pete’s death and the actions of those around him.  However, there are two chapters set in July 2018 which together hold the key to the events of New Year’s Eve 2019.

DI Rice the investigating officer – unfortunately – is a police officer taken direct from Central Casting.  He is separated from his wife, drinks a little too much, has a predilection for unhealthy food, and has a tense relationship with his superior officer.  He is at the end of his career and everyone knows it.  But he does have some redeeming qualities.  In a polite but nevertheless very direct confrontation with Jude’s mother Linda, he makes it blatantly clear to her how her style of parenting contributed indirectly to Pete’s death and directly to Jude’s subsequent estrangement.   He is also more able than most to read accurately the social dynamics of Jude’s and Keeley’s friendship group.

One of the strengths of the novel is its exploring the psychology of the friendship between Keeley and Jude and the somewhat skewed perception of that relationship by Linda and the staff at the school they both attend.  A cursory view of their friendship would suggest that Keeley is the more dominant who leads Jude astray but, as so often in life, there is a disconnect between perception and reality.  It is the gradual uncovering of the truth of the matter which lies at the heart of She and I and which provides its best moments.  The death of Pete, as tragic [and deserved] as it may be, is essentially a catalyst for uncovering the nature of the friendship between Keeley and Jude and its unintended consequences.

Those consequences are set out in the penultimate chapter titled ‘May 2022’ which is narrated by Keeley; and, in the final chapter ‘Epilogue: 1st January 2020, early morning’ narrated by Jude.  In that concluding chapter, what happened on that fatal morning is finally laid bare confirming Shakespeare’s ‘truth will come out’.

There are one or two storylines which are not developed as much as they could be – Jude’s younger brother Mason discloses something to DI Rice which changes his view of Pete’s death and of Jude but this is not pursued any further; and the death of Keeley’s mother from unknown causes seems only to be a plot device which allows Keeley and her brother to remain in their house without adult supervision.

Overall though, She and I is a good read for a first novel; and is one which generally engages the reader.

She and I

[2022]

by Hannah King

Bloomsbury

ISBN 978 15266 3750  5

$29.99; 291pp

 

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