Guest Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

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The Flatshare

by Beth O’Leary
May 28, 2019 · Flatiron
Contemporary RomanceRomance

This guest review is from Lisa the Librarian:

“Yes, I’m a librarian, and yes, being surrounded by books all day long is great. But it’s not “I-can-just-read-all-day” great as many people seem to assume. Oh, how I wish that were a thing! I would spend my days reading Regencies, funny contemporaries, cowboy romances, and all the other beautiful books I see every day. My favorite authors include Loretta Chase, Tessa Dare, Kristan Higgins, Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Julia Quinn, Jill Shalvis, and Maisey Yates.”

I’ve been wanting to read this book because I’ve been seeing good things about it everywhere. Kudos to O’Leary’s marketing team for that, especially since this is a debut. Also kudos on the tagline/premise: “Tiffy and Leon share an apartment. Tiffy and Leon have never met.

Londoner Leon Twome is a palliative care nurse who needs money to help pay for legal help for his brother, Richie, who has been wrongly imprisoned for armed robbery. Leon is working night shifts because they pay more and therefore his flat is free during the evenings and nights. He stays with his girlfriend on the weekends so he decides to get a flatmate for extra money. He writes a flatshare ad that includes “Flat (and room/bed) is to share… Only ever in the flat 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday. All yours the rest of the time.”

Tiffany (Tiffy) Moore is an assistant editor who needs to find a place to live quickly as her ex-boyfriend, Justin, has thrown her out of his flat. Justin doesn’t live in the flat any more, but he did show up with his new girlfriend recently. Rents are sky-high in London, and Tiffy doesn’t have a lot of money – especially now that Justin has just told her that she needs to pay him back-rent. She answers Leon’s ad.

Tiffy and Leon don’t meet for months even though they sleep in the same bed. This sounds improbable, but is handled in a very believable way. Leon’s girlfriend gives Tiffy the keys in the beginning, and Tiffy and Leon’s agreement states that they are never to be in the flat at the same time.

After Tiffy moves in she makes oat bars and writes a post-it to Leon saying “Help yourself! Hope you had a good day night. Tiffy x.” This is the beginning of their Post-it note conversations, and they eventually form a friendship through their notes.

Throw in great writing, interesting secondary characters, a neighborhood family of foxes and the guy in Flat 5 who has a “bewildering number of empty banana crates,” and you’ve got yourself a great story.

The writing is lovely and conversational and drew me in immediately. The author is especially adept at creating characters with interesting and complex lives. I felt like I knew Tiffy and Leon through their very distinct first person points of view. Tiffy’s chapters are witty and chatty with long sentences and lots of descriptions. Leon’s chapters have much shorter and mostly-factual sentences (especially in the beginning). When they do finally meet in person, it is adorably awkward, but they address the situation as (normal, somewhat awkward) adults.

Tiffy is a lovely and genuinely kind person. She has some adorable quirks and is smart and practical. I loved reading about her work at a niche DIY and crafts publisher, Butterfingers Press, and her inner monologues can be quite funny:

There’s a… television like the one in my parents’ house—it’s blocky and enormous at the back, like they’re stashing all the extra shopping channels in there.

[My mother says that] my father was a lumberjack in his youth (was he? I know he’s old, but didn’t lumberjacks only exist in fairy tales?).

Katherin is just on the acceptable side of eccentric… She was a real rebel once. She refuses to wear a bra even to this day, when bras have become quite comfortable and women have mostly given up on fighting the power because Beyoncé is doing it for us.

Tiffy of course also has a backstory. (Who doesn’t?). In the beginning she doesn’t realize – or allow herself to recognize – how destructive her relationship with Justin had been. But then she starts to experience disturbing flashbacks, and she begins to see how manipulative and possessive he is. Even though she tells herself that he never hit her, she finally begins to admit to herself that she was a victim of emotional abuse. She also learns that her friends did not like or trust Justin, but they kept silent so that she wouldn’t shut them out of her life. When she talks with a counsellor friend about Justin, her friend “…talks about gaslighting and triggers. I squirm uncomfortably, and finally a tear creeps from my bottom lashes down my cheek. I’m officially crying.”

Eventually her friend suggests that it would benefit Tiffy to see a therapist and she does. The emotional abuse and stalking are handled in a sensitive way.

The adorable, and sometimes adorably awkward, hero Leon is a bit quiet and reserved. He is so lovely and supportive to his brother that I couldn’t help but fall for him. (Also, it might just be me, but I suspect you might fall a little in love with his brother too). Leon and Richie are described as having light brown skin, and I feel that there were hints that racial profiling might have played a part in Richie’s arrest and conviction; there are certainly clear indications that Richie might not have been convicted if he had had better legal representation.

If I ever need a nurse I hope I get one like Leon. He has a very sweet relationship with Holly, a clever little girl with leukemia. And he goes out of his way to help Robert Prior, an older dying patient, when he learns about Mr. Prior’s brief WWII love affair with Johnny White:

They had one fraught, romantic, war-torn summer, then were split up. Johnny White was taken to hospital for shellshock. They never saw each other again. Mr. Prior could’ve got in lots of trouble (homosexuality vexing to military sorts).

Leon decides to find Johnny White. After some searching he finds eight Johnny Whites who fit his criteria, and he goes to meet each of them in person.

We don’t see Leon’s humor as often as we see Tiffy’s, but he is no slouch in this department either:

Leon talking to his brother about Holly: She’ll be fine. She’ll grow up to be a … coder. Professional coder. Using all her checkers skills to develop new digitally generated food that’ll stop anyone going hungry and put Bono out of work around Christmastime.

This part is a slight spoiler

Tiffy and Leon are starting to get it on in bed when there are repeated knocks at the door. Leon: Pull myself away from Tiffy, swear again… Need to pull self together. Will just answer door, punch person who has interrupted us, then head back to bed. A good, solid plan.

One more thing about Leon that you should know: Leon is dating Kay in the beginning, but it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that he and Kay break up at some point. Otherwise how could he be the hero?

Actually there is still one more thing about Leon that you should know, but it comes with a bit of a spoiler, too.

Show Spoiler

Leon ensures Tiffy’s consent when they start getting serious.

From Tiffy’s point of view:

I yank off Leon’s T-shirt and tug at the waistband of his jogging bottoms until he slips those off, too. As I slide my body up against his he pauses for a moment.

“OK?” he asks hoarsely. I can see the control he’s taking to ask the question; I answer with another kiss. “Yes?” he says, mouth against mine. “This means OK?”

“Yes. Now stop talking,” I tell him, and he does as he’s told.

Tiffy is very lucky in her friends because they are loving and supportive, but also because her friend Gerty is an impressive barrister who can help with Richie’s case, and her friend Mo is a counsellor who can talk with Tiffy about Justin. If I hadn’t loved the book so much I might have had more difficulty with how Tiffy’s friends are so exactly what she and Leon need. But I did love the book so suspension of disbelief it is. Speaking of suspension of disbelief, Leon knows a bit about emotional abuse, having seen his mother go through it with many of the men she dated when he was a child.

Tiffy’s friends are so fun and relatable that I wanted to invite all of them to a party so I could meet them in real life. In addition to the secondary characters already mentioned, we meet Tiffy’s co-worker, Rachel, who is in a mostly-friendly competition with Gerty over Tiffy’s affections and the irreverent and hilarious Katherin (she who refuses to wear a bra), the author of Crochet Your Way, a book that Tiffy is editing.

The characters are all very British with very British vocabularies. I read a lot of British authors, and I loved all the Brit-speak in this book (half six for 6:30, joined-up letters for cursive writing, trainers for running shoes), but if you don’t know (or don’t love) Brit-speak, you might get a bit frustrated.

WHY AM I GIVING THIS BOOK AN A- INSTEAD OF AN A:

I was very happily reading along when this happened:

Richie (Leon’s brother) to Rachel: “Are you calling me a pussy?”

Her response, “I fully believe that you’re a very brave man. But yes. I’m calling you a pussy. In case that helps you remember how brave you are.”

I believe that’s the only time the word pussy is used in the book, and it’s not as bad as it could have been, but… just no with using the word pussy in a derogatory way that implies that men are stronger than women (do they know that entire human beings come out of them?). I debated with myself over whether this word choice was enough to change my grade from an A to an A-, but decided, to me at least, it does justify the lower grade.

CONCLUSION:

Apart from the minor hiccup mentioned above, I highly recommend this book. I was hoping for a quick, playful read and I got that, but I got so much more than that too. Even though it dealt with some serious issues, it was so much fun to read. It was romantic, sweet, hot, funny, and original – everything I’m looking for in a romance. I can definitely see myself rereading this in the not-too-distant future.

Also, I think this could make a great movie. Can somebody get on that?

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