Friday, December 25, 2020

Review: The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary made a huge splash when it came out in 2019. And I missed the boat on that book and have kept on meaning to read it since then. I finally got the perfect opportunity to read and review it this month since it is being reprinted in early January.

The premise is delicious: Leon Twome is a palliative care night nurse at a hospice and Tiffany (Tiffy) Moore works as an editor at a niche publishing company. Leon's brother has been wrongly incarcerated in a prison for a crime he did not commit. In order to pay for his lawyer fees, Leon needs to generate more cash than his salary pays. So he comes up with the harebrained, brilliant idea of sharing his flat with someone with a day job.

Tiffy has once and for all broken up with her on-and-off boyfriend and needs a living situation stat. Unfortunately, she, not only owes her ex a lot of money, but her job pays her a pittance. So she needs someplace cheap, and over the misgivings of her friends, she is taken with the idea of a flatshare. The deal is negotiated by Leon's jealous girlfriend, and the hours are strictly set of who is supposed to be at the apartment when. The book employs a beloved romance trope: only one bed. But O'Leary turns this on its head by having the protagonists sleep in it when the other is not there.

I laughed when I first read the setup. It is so crazy; how will it even fly? But O'Leary not only makes it work, but shows herself to be a highly skilled storyteller. She really sells this story of how these two protagonists build a relationship, drawing ever closer to each other, without ever seeing each other. They become friends long before attraction plays a part in their relationship. I love that Tiffy and Leon handwrite notes to each other. Such an old-fashioned way of getting to know the other person. Just as Leon learns that Tiffy is quirky, colorful, warm, and kind, so does the reader. Just as the reader learns that Leon is patient, thoughtful, dependable, and loyal, so does Tiffy. And just as they're becoming friends, so is the reader befriending them.

O'Leary does a fantastic job showing the PTSD Tiffy suffers as a result of the trauma of her ex's emotional abuse. The helplessness, the irresistible tendency to give in to his controlling ways, the drowning doubt of self-worth, the pull of believing his version of events, the flashbacks, the trembling...all make the reader choke up over Tiffy's suffering and feel anger towards the one who has dimmed her light and made her kind soul suffer. O'Leary skillfully shows the escalating abusive arc of Tiffy's ex as one of the driving forces in the second half of the book.

By contrasting Leon's innate decency, warmth, and caring ways to Tiffy's ex's insanely possessive ways, O'Leary shows Tiffy what a good relationship looks like. She realizes that her self-worth is invaluable and that she deserves to be with someone who thinks her incomparable, one worthy of respect and thoughtfulness. Her sense of self grows in proportion to how much Leon prizes what she brings to his life: a sense of fun, impulsiveness, warmth.

And loyalty to him, and thus, by extension, loyalty to his brother. When Tiffy is in, she is all in. She embodies what is one of my top goals in life: "flow with the go." She marvels that her relationship with Leon is one of equals. Given how much Leon's mother suffered abuse at the hands of the men she dated, Leon has always been very clear from the start of his relationship with Tiffy: equality, consent, and respect will always rule the day.

O'Leary's conversational writing style is part of her storytelling charm. But that style does take some getting used to. There are sentence fragments, quirky punctuation, and grammatical liberties taken in service of the artistic voice. However, the story is so entertaining and tugs on your heartstrings so, that you focus on the emotions that the author is so good at conveying.

Having read this book, I can well believe why it featured so prominently on so many Best Books lists in 2019 and has eleven thousand 4.5 star ratings on Amazon. I loved the story!

[I received a digital advanced review copy from the publisher, Flatiron Books, via Netgalley.]