Book Review | The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Tiffy needs a place to live. She’s in London, and her meagre Assistant Editor salary isn’t going to get her very far. She also needs to get out of her toxic ex-boyfriend’s flat, finally accepting that things are over between them. And that’s when she comes across this unconventional arrangement.

Leon is a palliative care nurse and works nights. He needs the extra cash – his brother is in prison, a wrongful conviction for armed robbery, and Leon is desperately funding a lawyer to start an appeal. So he places an ad for someone to share his apartment between the hours of 6pm and 9am every day. They’ll share the bed, kitchen, utensils, TV. Except they’ll never meet.

“I knew when I signed up for this that we wouldn’t be in the flat at the same time – that was why it was such a good idea. But I didn’t realise that we would literally never meet. Like, ever, at all, for four whole months.”

In our modern-day world, where almost all indirect communication is digital, there is something charming and whimsical about writing. What starts as a note from Tiffy reminding Leon to keep the toilet seat down evolves into a longstanding form of communication between the two, each of them slowly getting to know the other through the months in which they share a home and a bed but never cross paths.

“I rest my forehead against the fridge door for a moment, then run my fingers across the layers of paper scraps and post-its. There’s no much here. Jokes, secrets, stories, the slow unfolding of two people whose lives have been changing in parallel – or, I don’t know, in sync. Different times, same place.”

There’s more than meets the eye with this hugely engaging, funny and touching piece of contemporary fiction. Tiffy is a quirky character without being a caricature, and the way that O’Leary alternates the perspectives between the two protagonists through a distinct writing style for each helps to define their voices and builds up their personalities. Honourable mentions should also go to Tiffy’s best friends, counsellor Mo and no-nonsense lawyer Gerty, faithful companions who support Tiffy through good and bad.

There are also depths to this novel that you might not be expecting: the lasting ramifications of trauma; the failures of the justice system; emotional abuse and manipulation. O’Leary counters these topics in a sensitive way that is still in keeping with the tone of the novel. She takes an innovative idea, shaking up the traditional epistolary form and creates a quirky novel you can devour in a couple of sittings.

“Life is often simple, but you don’t notice how simple it was until it gets incredibly complicated, like how you never feel grateful for being well until you’re ill, or how you never appreciate your tights drawer until you rip a pair and have no spares.”

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