So here’s the scenario: you’ve just broken up with your boyfriend, you’re still hung up on him, but know that for your sanity you need to move out of his flat as soon as you can. But… the problem is you’re completely broke and can’t afford any decent renting options. This is the situation Tiffy finds herself in, when she sees Leon’s advert for a flat share. Leon is a palliative care nurse, working night shifts – so they’d be in the flat at different times and never need to cross paths. Sharing a bed with someone you’ve never met before (albeit at different times)…? Sightly strange set up, but Tiffy is desperate and moves in, bringing her cacophony of colourful clothes, craft books and quirky furniture with her.
Tiffy and Leon begin to leave each other little post-it notes round the flat – it starts with the usual petty housemate gripes about the cleaning and the bins, sharing leftovers etc. Yes, it’s a little predictable where things will go from here – but there are roadblocks on their journey, adding great depth to the story and characters. And it’s just SO satisfying to see Tiffy and Leon’s story unfold.
The greatest strength of this endearing story is, for me, O’Leary’s fantastic cast of characters. Tiffy and Leon narrate the story in alternating chapters, and just as they get to know each other through their note writing, we too come to understand more about their characters through the different tones to their narrating styles. In Tiffy’s sections emotions flow readily and the story meanders – Tiffy’s quirky, immediately likeable character reminded me of Lou Clark in Jo Jo Moyes’ Me Before You and I therefore completely loved her right away. Leon’s chapters are quieter somehow, the writing is more sparce – speech is recounted without speech marks, which comes across as more reflective. While I love Tiffy, I found it really refreshing to see Leon, who is a more introverted, sensitive man, as a central character in this romance.
Surrounding Tiffy and Leon are a cast of interesting characters, who enable some other types of relationships to be explored. We see the lasting psychological effects of Tiffy’s relationship with her controlling, abusive ex Justin. We see how Leon’s childhood, growing up in a single parent family, has shaped his relationship with his Mum and his little brother Richie (who is currently serving time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit). Friendship is also hugely significant. Rachel is recognisable as the supportive friend who always has your back (e.g. sends you ‘girl power’ songs every 15 minutes to get you through a tough day). Mo and Gerty are both more original, wonderful characters – this story wouldn’t be the same without Mo’s gentle counsel and Gerty’s quick tongue and tough exterior – I loved them both!
I wholeheartedly recommend this book! It is the feelgood, quirky romance that I hoped it would be, with characters that promise to stay with me for a long time. Congratulations Beth O’Leary on a fabulous debut.
The Flatshare is out now, with Quercus. Thanks to Hannah Robinson and Quercus for the review copy.