‘A Kiss In The Dark’ by Cat Clarke

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

‘If things went to plan and I kept liking Kate and she kept liking me (that was the tricky part of the equation), then there was a chance everything would be alright in the end. Because that was how live was supposed to work, wasn’t it? True love will prevail or whatever. Not that I was in love with her or anything. Not then, anyway.’

‘A Kiss In The Dark’ is a love story told in two halves: ‘Before’, which is told from Alex’s perspective, and ‘After’, from Kate’s viewpoint.
However, it’s not your conventional love story. Kate thinks that Alex is the perfect boyfriend, but the truth is… Alex is a girl. They meet online and after talking for a week or so they meet up at the Saving Serenity concert at their local venue, and Alex is certain that Kate will realise that she is definitely not a boy, but when she doesn’t, Alex’s determined to not let Kate find out the truth about her. She’s quickly falling in love with her and she didn’t want it to be ruined if Kate found out the truth.
Alex goes to extreme measures to keep her gender a secret from Kate: she wears masculine clothes, uses bandages to bind her chest up and even goes so far as creating a fake penis to wear in her jeans (a tube of mints wrapped in gym socks). But when Jamie, Alex’s brother, discovers what has been going on he forces Alex to break up with Kate, and she knows it’s for the best.
What she’s not betting on is Kate turning up on her doorstep, desperate to beg her “boyfriend” for another chance.
And this is where the proceedings switch to Kate’s viewpoint, leading us into the ‘After’ section of the novel.

‘My life could now be neatly divided by a single point in time: before or after I found out my boyfriend was a girl.’ 

Kate is distraught. She’s been falling in love with Alex for months now, and finding out her boyfriend is actually a girl is a massive shock. She confides in her mother, who she has a fraught relationship with, but her mother adds two and two together and comes up with seventeen: she’s certain Alex sexually assaulted Kate. Kate doesn’t deny it, but she begs her mother to never mention it again.
Of course her mother doesn’t do that. She phones the police, backing Kate into a corner so she feels that she has to give a false statement. She doesn’t want to waste police time, and she knows it would upset her mother. She understands that it’s wrong, but Alex broke her heart, so she thinks she deserves payback for that.
It’s only when she finds herself thinking about the potential of a future with Alex – female Alex – that she realises that she’s done the wrong thing. Alex is going to court for the sexual assault, but Kate turns up at the courthouse and stops the proceedings by announcing the truth: that she lied, and that Alex did nothing to her. When asked why she’s decided to be honest, Kate’s answer is simple: ‘Because I love her’. 

‘Maybe one day she would love over at me again and I’d see that look in her eyes and I’d know that she’d fallen in love with me all over again. And she wouldn’t care that she was a girl and I was a girl, because what did it matter? Love was love.’ 

I love the idea behind ‘A Kiss In The Dark’, because while it’s unbelievable, it’s written in such a way that it’s completely feasible. Cat Clarke has a way of covering every possibility so that there’s no way that it can be seen as unrealistic, making Alex question Kate’s naivety multiple times, and having Kate still able to see the masculine traits that she’d seen in Alex after she knows the truth so that the illusion isn’t completely shattered.
I adored the ‘Before’ section much more than the ‘After’ section, because I could empathise with Alex more than I could Kate. You could tell that what she was doing was out of love, even if it was misguided, and I felt for her because she thought she needed to go to such desperate lengths to keep her first love. The fact that sexual intercourse never came into her mind proves how innocent she was – she believed that hanging out with Kate and kissing would be enough for a relationship, which I thought was a lovely aspect of her personality and proved how much she loved her for her, rather than for her looks.
I appreciated the two lies mirroring each other (Alex’s lie to Kate; Kate’s lie to the police) but I found Kate to be too childish. She did the right thing eventually, but while Alex lied for a good reason, Kate did it to gain approval from her mother and to hurt Alex. When the excuse she gives Jamie is “She ruined my life!” I just wanted to shake her and ask her to put things into context. Is getting your heart broken by someone really the same as sending them to prison? No. I wanted nothing more than for Kate to get over herself.
I know why we needed to have two perspectives to make it effective and to really tell the story, but because I didn’t really like Kate I found myself enjoying the novel significantly less in her section. It was beautifully written, with astoundingly powerful metaphors (the imagery about lies burning through the floor to the foundation of the house being particularly moving) and a moral ending to the story: always do the right thing. But Kate’s constantly bad attitude grated on my nerves after a few temper tantrums, and her attitude seemed contrived.
I also wasn’t too impressed with the ending of the novel, but that’s because it was sudden. It was a natural closing point, and I’m glad that the story wasn’t dragged out, but it meant that we didn’t get to see any of the fallout from Kate’s honesty. Alex’s parents must have hated Kate for accusing their daughter of sexual assault, but we don’t get to see interactions between them. It also would have been extremely interesting to see Kate’s mother’s reaction when Kate’s dishonesty was revealed, as she had blindly trusted her daughter straight away.
There was also the little problem of Kate’s “best friend” Astrid. Kate and Astrid had fallen out, so Astrid had been posting slanderous messages about her and Alex on Facebook. Kate doesn’t respond to the messages, but because we never see Astrid get her comeuppance it means that plot line is a bit of a waste. It doesn’t cause any character development and it doesn’t have a climax, so it’s an odd inclusion.
On the one hand, I dislike the fact that we didn’t get a tidy ending, but on the other hand I was so happy with everything else. The descriptions of days out around Scotland were lovely, and definitely made me want to go there. I found it very interesting to learn about Hogmanay, because it was something that I’d heard of but I’d never seen it explored in a novel before: it makes me more inclined to research it in the future. I loved all of the emotional descriptions, and that’s why Cat Clarke’s one of my favourite authors – she can pinpoint the strangest little emotions and make them seem completely easy to relate to. There’s a scene near the start of the novel where Kate is focusing on the sunlight because it makes it feel warmer, something I do regularly, and I’d never considered that it could be a common thought.
Overall, felt conflicted by ‘A Kiss In The Dark’, because of the strange choice of ending and the irritating secondary viewpoint. If things had been wrapped up completely (I have a thing for getting loose ends tied up, so that’s always something I’m campaigning for) and if Kate had been as brilliant – or even as justified in her actions – as Alex, this definitely would have been one of my top reads of the year.
I recommend ‘A Kiss In The Dark’, because I recommend anything Cat Clarke writes. I’m being extra, extra picky, because she’s one of the authors I enjoy the most and I don’t want to blindly accept anything that she writes just because it’s her. I’m glad that I read this novel, because it was an enjoyable read (despite my quibbles) and I’m looking forward to reading ‘Undone’ and ‘The Lost and the Found’, as I’d forgotten how easy it was to get sucked into the stories that Cat writes.
If you haven’t read a Cat Clarke novel, what are you waiting for?!