BOOK REC: The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

Author: Beth O’Leary (website)

UK Publisher: Quercus

Genre: Contemporary romantic comedy

Tiffy and Leon share a flat

Tiffy and Leon share a bed

Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

This review will contain some spoilers.

I had been in a bit of a reading slump for the first third of this year or so. I was struggling to find the motivation to consistently pick up a book and finish it. It was taking me weeks to finish novels I would normally have polished off in a number of days. It was no reflection on the books, just that my brain – which had managed pretty well on reading last year, although a lot of that was interview prep – slapped the Time Out button and was just really struggling to grip onto things. This book was like a brain sorbet, a mental palate cleanser. It was sweet, and funny, and easy, and lovely, and I blitzed it like I used to blitz books in a couple of days.

Tiffy is an editor for a non-fiction lifestyle publisher, and has (finally) moved out of her awful ex-boyfriend’s house. She needed somewhere quickly. Fortunately, Leon, the night-shift nurse at the local palliative care ward, needs a quick income supplement, and he’s not using his flat during the time most people would need it. His girlfriend’s less keen, until she deems Tiffy not a threat. But where Leon’s girlfriend is less supportive of his quest to get his brother acquitted, Tiffy is ready to support him and help him.

Everything about this book delighted me. Tiffy and Leon are well developed characters each in their own right, with their own concerns. They don’t exist simply to define the other, which makes them so much more endearing and empathetic. In fact, they don’t meet face to face for over half the book. In a very Austenian twist, they get to know each other through the clues they each leave around the flat, but also through post-it notes they write. They have long threads of very short notes where they slowly learn each other’s foibles and feelings in very few words and a variety of baked goods.

This does feel like a modern Austen. The characters are personality opposites, but they blend perfectly, like a Darcy and Lizzy each props up the weaknesses of the other. If you ever watched Love Soup and spent the entire first series knowing the two leads were made for each other if only they could just meet, this is the book which will heal the wounds of Love Soup series two (no, I’m not bitter, and I’m completely over it, why do you ask?). In particular, I would like to note Tiffy’s friendships as she tries to find her way free of her previous relationship.

Something explored in the story is the impact an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship can have on a person. Tiffy’s self-esteem is rock bottom at the start of the novel, coming out of a long term relationship with a man who brought his new partner to their shared home. As the story progresses, we realise that Justin’s behaviour was more than that – he ground her down, made her believe she was weird, unattractive, and kept her reliant on him for her self-worth. She couldn’t afford to live alone, but he would regularly break up with her and then take her back to make her feel grateful for his attention and support. Her friends have had to watch this, but Tiffy has been blind to how insidious his treatment of her was.

Leon, meanwhile, is probably the most straightforward person she has ever met. He doesn’t want to play games, all he wants is extra money to fund his brother’s appeal, as he is convinced his brother is innocent. Leon’s girlfriend is less inclined to agree, so when Tiffy – through accidental phone conversations with Richie, and post-it note conversations with Leon – offers support and faith, Leon is thrown and can’t quite believe it. Not only that, but Tiffy is able to help with her barrister friend looking over the case. Leon’s used to being hurt – his mother dated a lot of not-good men when he was younger, men much like Justin, and his girlfriend has all but confirmed she believes Richie is guilty. He’s wary of trusting, where Tiffy trusts everyone except herself.

This book doesn’t shy away from the work it can take to get over these sort of traumas. Both Tiffy and Leon are cautious, and patient with each other. They work out how to communicate, and read each other’s non-verbal cues as well, which is nicely contrasted with Justin’s continued stomping of boundaries. Potential trigger warning here for emotional manipulation and abusive, controlling behaviour.

The chapters alternate writing styles between Tiffy, who is verbose, and fluent, constantly sharing her thoughts in glorious detail, and Leon, who writes in short, staccato sentences and never bothers with pronouns. This, combined with the interspersed notes (of which I wish there were more!), makes for a quick read because you never get bogged down in a single style, and the changing perspectives and tones means that the action can be kept brisk.

Briefly:

  • A really fun romcom that mixes split-perspectives and epistolary techniques to create a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable easy read. The main characters have great chemistry, and you get a real sense of their personalities.
  • The book deals with the issues of emotional abuse as well, and the impact that can have on people who have suffered from it, and on their families. It doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that cause it, or the work that needs to be done to overcome the damage, but still provides an enjoyable and light-hearted read.
  • This book really understands the value of a slow burn romance. It builds the chemistry between the two characters gradually through their notes and the way they slowly begin to understand each other and open up to each other; and then they meet each other and have an “oh no, they’re hot” moment, and the UST really ramps up, and it’s wonderful. I’ve already downloaded O’Leary’s second book, and I’ve heard that’s even more fun.

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