Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Where to start with The Flatshare?! It’s been absolutely everywhere, and for a short period, it felt absolutely unavoidable. I can understand why- it’s addictive, romantic, funny and sucks you in. O’Leary’s tale of two flatmates who share a bed but have never met is a romance for the modern age.
Without the Women, Wine, Wit book club I probably would have steered clear of something so explicitly a romance, claiming it wasn’t for me. I love romance and comedy in films but have always believed this doesn’t easily translate to books without becoming horrifically cheesy. Yet, The Flatshare proved me wrong. Romcoms clearly do translate well and Beth O’Leary demonstrates that.
The main premise of the novel is unique- we are essentially for the first quarter watching a partnership form without the two players even meeting. Tiffy and Leon’s communications take the form of multiple post-it notes left around their apartment for the other to read when they return from work. It is here where the booming heart of The Flatshare is formed- the undeniable connection of the two. O’Leary carefully constructs the notes to form personalities and conversations that haven’t actually happened yet, so that we know before Tiffy and Leon do that they are perfect for one another. This is only solidified by the choice to alternate between the two perspectives for each chapter. Tiffy and Leon are both strong characters, with noticeable idioms. Once again, O’ Leary in doing this makes us sit up, and really pay attention to them separately as fully formed people with actual identities, whilst also making sure we notice their connection.
Yet, it is once the Tiffy and Leon do meet that The Flatshare comes into its own. Unlike, many romances that are so black and white, O’Leary ensures that the reader's appetite for love is satiated but reminds us that life isn’t that simple. Tiffy and Leon have lives outside of each other, lives which are complicated and difficult. The Flatshare never shies away from these lives, which is why I personally loved it so much. The readers don’t only find out about the relationship of Tiffy and Leon but a whole host of characters and events that cloud their world. From Leon’s work in a hospice that results in his search for the long-lost lover of his patient Mr Prior to Tiffy’s publishing job that often ends in her being a knitwear model for a client, Katherin, The Flatshare adds backstory after backstory without ever being crowded.
The two most prominent backstories, however, take the form of Tiffy’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Justin and Leon’s wrongly imprisoned brother, Richie. As much as I loved the romance, these unexpected elements made The Flatshare for me. Despite, being a comedic novel, O’Leary doesn’t shy away from how serious these issues are. The portrayal of Justin’s gaslighting, for example, is carefully and considerately weaved into the narrative. It is hinted at the beginning that Tiffy and his relationship may have been problematic, yet in being told by Tiffy that they argued but it was never serious, she was in love, he was exciting and spontaneous, our worries are somewhat laid to rest. Then he starts appearing at multiple events, where Tiffy too happens to be- this makes sense, they are in similar fields of work. It takes multiple incidents of Tiffy remembering the past for us to realise the truth, in essence, we have gone through the same process she has- we have been gaslighted too. Here we see the skill of O’Leary- she maintains a perfect balance between the comedic, the romantic and the serious.
The Flatshare is a romance but is much more than that. O’Leary’s novel is a heart-warming, comedic but sometimes sad novel full of joy.