The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Trigger Warning: Emotional Abuse, Prison
Tiffy and Leon share a flat. They share a bed. Their flat is peppered with notes. But they have never met.
I adored this book. So. So. Much.
My heart is so full after reading this, and it’s probably going to be one of my top reads of the year.
I loved Tiffy. She’s so strong and bright and wonderful, and I just want to wrap her up in a shiny basket and send her off to save herself because she can and she does. After reeling from an emotional break up (which seems final after so many from before), she finds herself searching for a new place to live. Desperate, she turns to a listing that seems too good to be true…minus the fact that she’ll be sharing a bed with a stranger she’ll never meet. Who is a man. But it works out, and Leon is funny and kind and loves her cooking, even if he’s exasperated by how much of her things have taken over their flat.
And I absolutely adored Leon. He’s quiet, extremely introverted, and is a man of few words. Dude is awkward as hell, but hella competent at his job—as evidenced by how everyone loves him. And working nights in a hospice ward? Dude is practically a saint. I loved how patient he was and how aware he was of Tiffy’s needs, even if she wasn’t aware of them herself. And how he was soft and sweet and reluctant but knew himself very, very well. And how dedicated he was to his family and his brother, Richie. And to Tiffy after she slowly worked her way into his heart.
This book is hilarious.
I never thought I’d be so enamored by a book that spends nearly half the time with the two leads never meeting but just exchanging a bewilderingly high amount of Post-It notes (I loled when the notes became double stacked on the frig, as clearly the two rarely removed them once read). Or a book as focused on crochet. Because…crochet.
This book has layers of depth.
The friends were all delightful. I loved Gerty and Mo and Rachel and Richie with all of my heart, and I wish Mr. Prior and the Machiavellian Holly. I want more of them. And more of Tiffy and Leon’s work, because their workplaces felt full and real—particularly the mutterings of doctors and patients and nurses and students who are all stunned that Tiffy does exist and isn’t just Leon making up stories to get them off his back.
But holy moly trigger warning.
Lemme tell you, if reading about emotionally abusive exes is a trigger, stay the hell away from this book. Read no more of this review.
Because while heavy handed, the douche canoe that is Justin is just Emotional Abuse Personified. He has no redeeming qualities. He’s literally an asshole through and through, and treats Tiffy like trash, cheats on her, is possessive of her (I don’t want her but no one else can have her) and is just a complete and utter dick. And kinda unrealistic, because really. (view spoiler)
However, Justin doesn’t matter.
Tiffy’s reactions to him matter, because holy hell her reactions are spot-on with victims of emotional abuse and gaslighting. “My memory was bad—I can never remember things right. He says so.” “It was so, so good—why did I feel miserable all the time? It was me. I’m awful.” “Sure he was an asshole, but he never hit me. It wasn’t abuse.” “I can’t live without him. He said that I was worthless without him.” “Sure he’s possessive and a little jealous, but it’s because he loves me.” If these are thoughts that have drifted through your mind during or after a relationship, please seek counseling. Because trauma is trauma and abuse is abuse, and you are worth more than that—just like Tiffy and Mam.
I particularly loved the emotional support from Tiffy’s friends, during and after the breakup. They knew exactly what was going on, but also knew that they were powerless to prevent it or make Tiffy realize what was happening (fuck emotional abuse can be so subtle) until she was free and realizing things for herself. But they were there to support her through every step of the way.
So if I loved this book so much, why the four stars? Why not five?
Because although I appreciated how this book turned so many romance tropes on their heads—Oh No One Bed; A Body of Water? No One Will Fall in That!; Oh No, A Hotel Room With One Bed, Redux—it had the most dastardly trope of all.
BURY YOUR GAYS
And it was such a delightful side-plot too! I loved Leon’s quest to find the right Johnny White for Mr. Prior, and how he named gave them numbers to separate them from each other. Johnny White the Sixth was delightful and hilarious…as were some of the other Johnny Whites. Which was the real one?!
Big but. While it’s okay (IMO) to have your one gay coupling be star-crossed lovers from WWII who had a passionate fling after the war and separated because of 1) War Ending and 2) Homophobia, it is not okay to have them reunite and then have one die (sorry, mild spoiler but this is a book set in a hospice ward and Mr. Prior was in his 90s and very ill) and have that death be a Realization for a character to not spend time thinking about doing but actual spend time doing and living and loving. And then the main leads get together and the Big Subplot of Find the Lost Lovers is…lost and not repeated again.
So that was one star off an otherwise fantastical and amazing book.
Holy fuck I love Tiffy and Leon, and now I am going to push this as our library’s book club choice.
They want a light read…I’ll give them this.
They’ll never know what hit them