My Rating: ★★★★★ (4.5 stars)
(That’s the sound that the male protagonist makes when he’s freaking out. Argh, he’s such a precious cinnamon roll.)
I needed something light and ridiculous and distracting, and this hit all the right notes.
Here’s the set-up for The Flatshare: Leon is looking for a flatmate because he needs the money for to pay for his brother’s legal fees, who’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Tiffy sees his ad and decides takes the offer because it’s cheap, and she needs a place to stay after her ex broke up with her.
You’d expect all sorts of shenanigans to ensue from here, but weirdly enough, Tiffy and Leon don’t see each other face-to-face until halfway through the book. This is rendered plausible by the fact that Leon takes the night shift as a palliative care nurse (I know, he’s such a precious human being), and Tiffy has a day job at a publishing house that specializes in arts and crafts, so they literally don’t bump into each other during the workweek. On weekends, Leon spends time with his (soon-to-be-ex) girlfriend, who doesn’t want him to meet his flatmate. The only way they communicate with each other is through leaving post-it notes scattered throughout the flat.
I have to say, I’m a sucker for epistolary romances, so even if they communicate mainly through post-it notes instead of texting or calling like normal people, I was totally on board with it. (Also, it’s post-it notes—you know there’s no way they won’t fall in love.) So, over the course of the six months (it’s a veeeeery slow burn) of exchanging notes, they get to know each other and care for each other, and they also build up a whole cache of inside jokes.
I found their dynamic to be organic and I loved the breadcrumb-trail way they get to know each other through seeing the things that they leave behind in the flat. When Leon sees some flapjack or tiffin on the counter, for example, he knows she’s stressed because she stress-bakes. They pick up on how the other likes their tea from the remnants in the mugs they leave at the sink. They know each other’s taste in books and clothes. This accumulation of small details may seem boring to some, but it was an absolute delight for me, because it made them feel more human.
The slow-burn romance was also appropriate, since Tiffy was dealing with a break-up from her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend, Justin. I liked how the author allowed her to come to terms with this without using her budding romance as a crutch for her psychological recovery—she had her friends and the help of a counsellor to get her through it. I also loved how Leon gave her space to heal. He didn’t act all caveman when her ex came around (though the one Confrontation with The Ex was very satisfying) and he prioritised Tiffy’s well-being without any macho posturing. Tiffy’s friends and the other supporting characters were all great characters, too, and I was pleasantly surprised (although in retrospect I should’ve seen it coming) when one of them had a central role in the plot.
I was initially put off by the chapters with Leon’s POV, since he thinks in fragments rather than in full sentences, but I eventually warmed up to it. I suppose it can be read as a reflection of his personality—he’s introverted and reticent and not prone to talking about his feelings, so he’s also not very chatty in his own head. It’s nice that the author didn’t attribute his reticence to his “being a man”, but rather through his need to quietly absorb things when they happen before he can talk about them.
Tiffy is predictably his opposite—she’s spunky and energetic and impulsive, and she’s forever calling her friends to help her process what she’s thinking, but their personalities complemented each other well. I did find Tiffy a little too manic pixie dream girl for my taste—she’s a Redhead and Quirky, complete with colourful and mismatched clothing—but her emotional struggles rounded out her character in the end.
Overall, this was a fantastic read. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys the roommate/bed-sharing trope and a slow-burn, feel-good epistolary romance. Admittedly there’s a lot of angst before you get to the feel-good part, but it’s so worth it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
UPDATE: This book has turned out to be literally life-changing on my end, in a small but significant way. Right after I posted this review on Goodreads, one of my friends messaged me, asking me why I haven’t been replying to his messages for months. Before this he even called my brother and my best friend to ask why I was ignoring him. It suddenly occurred to me that there were some parallels between his behavior and the behavior of Justin, Tiffy’s ex. To be clear, I was never in a relationship with him and he’s far from being emotionally abusive, but he used to make demands on my time (especially back when I was with my ex), teases me in a way that makes me feel small, and calls me only when he needs me—i.e., when he needs to talk to someone about some emotional crisis. Whenever I try to open up to him, he redirects the conversation back to himself, and more than once he’s made light of something I’ve shared that I was sensitive or dead-serious about. So when I saw his message and I started feeling anxious and guilty without knowing why, I remembered Tiffy’s own flashbacks to Justin’s behavior, and resolved to look at my feelings more closely without assuming that I was in the wrong about our friendship. Long story short: I finally found it in myself to confront him about our “friendship” (with reinforcements from my real friends) and told him that it hasn’t been a friendship for a long time, at least not on my end. I think I would’ve done it eventually, but this book provided me with the extra push I needed to do it. So, thank you for writing this book, Ms. O’Leary, wherever you are. You’ll always have a fan in me.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!
Find me on Goodreads! | Read from March 22-23, 2020