BOOK REVIEW: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
When I lay down in bed late in the evening to unwind with a book in hand, the one thing I look for is an excited and impatient urge to flip through the pages, and well my fingers always did a happy dance each time I picked up Beth O’Leary’s novel. Hmm, I think I’m getting ahead of myself a little.
Tiffy and Leon share a bed. Tiffy and Leon have never met… but that fact isn’t even the most interesting thing about this book. As easy as this book was to pick up each time, it was even harder to put it down whenever I found myself fully immersed in the story, and well, I guess that’s the sign you caught a good one.
The first pages of the book introduce you to Tiffy and her best friends as they help her on a hunt for a new place to live on a low budget in London following a breakup.
Instantly likeable from the get-go, we are introduced to Tiffy, an assistant editor at a small publishing house that doesn’t pay her nearly enough to be able to survive the London living expenses, although she does love her job very much. She’s full of life, is rarely ever left speechless, bubbly and quirky, and has a fashion style that people would describe as “a bit out there”.
Online she found an advert put up by someone offering a flat and bed from the evening till early morning on weekdays as well as all day on weekends for £350 a month. Well, it’s Leon that needs the £350 a month, as you’ll quickly learn in the second chapter. He and Tiffy couldn’t be more different; Leon is a lot more reserved and appears to be one of those people who speak only when absolutely necessary and is very into his own peace and quiet. Why would a 27-year-old palliative care nurse opt to take such measures for extra cash each month? I’ll let you find that one out on your own when you read it for yourself…
The Flatshare is a movie-like romcom on the surface that hides a deep story about emotional and psychological abuse. As always, here comes the part where I tell you what I enjoyed, what I didn’t and a bit about the writing style:
Undoubtedly. This book made me go through so many colours of emotions as the story came together more and more. I found myself smiling alone in front of the pages – all giddy and hopeful. I travelled with the characters on every journey they went on, and genuinely felt like I had envisioned a world in my mind where Tiffy and Leon really existed for the hours I spent in bed.
The way the writer is able to build a relationship that feels genuine, authentic and perhaps even a certain level of intimacy can be felt between the two protagonists before they meet was definitely outstanding. As the two don’t get to cross paths for a while in the book, they communicate almost entirely through post-it notes all around the house and their unusual correspondences are actually everything.
One reason why I think the book was an extremely fun read also had a lot to do with the side characters who were very vital in pushing the story forward. There were Tiffy’s best friends, Mo and Gerty, as well as her fun work colleague Rachael. Richie was the one in the toughest spot in the book, but somehow he was the one that made me laugh the easiest. Justin was as awful as they come. Mr Prior and little Holly at the hospice warmed my heart each time.
My favourite characters from the book aside from the two protagonists were definitely Gerty and Richie – both of them just exuded so much personality that I felt their characters could each be housed in books filled with their own stories.
To be honest, there isn’t much I didn’t like about The Flatshare. Yes, it is not the deepest book on my bookshelf, but not everything has to be, and it also not trying to be. I think that’s one of the strong suits of the novel, it knows exactly what it wants to be, and it does just that perfectly.
If I were to nit-pick on something, I’d have loved a more detailed description for Leon, as sometimes I struggled to conjure him up in my imagination. But then again, it didn’t stop me from understanding his personality and character the more I read so I got passed that.
Writing Style? Reading Time?
When I noticed that the book narration in each chapter alternates between Tiffy and Leon, I was a little worried that a constant change of voice could ruin the flow or in a worst-case scenario cause a bit of confusion – that was not the case at all. The back and forth between points of view and differences in tone were major highlights as I flipped through the pages. Because both characters were so distinct in terms of the things they would say, the way they’d react to a certain situation, and even down to grammar and punctuation, it was always easy to tell who was narrating what chapters. Also, at the beginning of each chapter, the writer always made it clear by writing the relevant name.
Overall, it was very contemporary and rather easy to read. I didn’t find myself looking up too many words throughout and I read the whole book in a couple of days during my free time. Reading the novel during the second lockdown was definitely a perfect choice as it was great for escapism, so if you’re looking for a rather digestible book with a sprinkle of drama, The Flatshare should be your next pick.
Your restless romantic roamer
I literally just finished reading this book! Very enjoyable and just the light read I needed at the moment. My biggest criticism though was along the lines of what you said though it goes deeper for me – though Leon was characterized as a person of color (mainly just by description of his skin tone) there was no mention of any aspect of his cultural/racial identify to the point that I couldn’t tell which POC he was (and, as you mentioned, I couldn’t completely picture him). So it felt like to me he was just a blank slate stand-in POC just for the brother-jail storyline. That combined with the numerous references to her being a “English rose” or references to her beautiful “pale skin” annoyed me lol. I would love to fix all of this because i did think it was a cute book.
Stumbled up your review when I was googling/looking fan casting. Disturbingly saw that some would cast Leon as a non-POC (it seemed like European readers?) which makes me wonder is something is changed in other printings or if it is just a case of whitewashing.
So lovely to return from a mini blogging hiatus to discover your comment on my blog! This is why I love having a platform on here because you just articulated the issue I had with the book so much better than I did frankly. In fact, I do agree that there was an issue with how Leon was vaguely described, almost like the writer was trying to avoid placing him in as a POC, and yet that identity seemed to be the driving force of his brother’s storyline (which was also not expanded on fully). I do understand the book wanted to be light-hearted, dramatic and fun, but amongst the things that were brushed over Leon’s race and identity should have not been one of them at all.
Thank you so much for such an insightful comment!