'The Flat Share' by Beth O'Leary
Disclaimer: On my blog, I do not write book 'reviews' or offer star ratings. I believe that every published work has something to offer and that, though I personally may not like a particular book, that does not mean it does not hold any value. On this blog I write book 'discussions' - where I focus mostly on the parts I do like, discussing any themes, writing techniques and other aspects that interest me and that I want to discuss. This then means that these posts will contain spoilers so fair warning. Summarised: these are book discussions, not book reviews.
What's your go-to genre when you're needing a bit of an uplift? For me, it's contemporary romance, and that's why I'm here today writing about Beth O'Leary's The Flat Share.
This book was EVERYWHERE on social media for a while, and that's how I first came across it. When I started paying attention to it (and read the blurb) I was really intrigued by the premise. Leon and Tiffy are flatmates, who share a bed, who have never met. Colour me intrigued.
I loved the subversion of the traditional rom com - there was no 'love at first sight' nor even physical attraction. They quite literally never met. Leon works late nights at the hospice, Tiffy works during the day as a book editor (so jealous). They share a bed as it's a one-bed apartment in London, and both are strapped for cash, so the set-up, though rather odd, works out for them both. Tiffy has just left an emotionally abusive relationship though is still coping with the after effects of that, and Leon is in a relationship with a girl who he has fallen out of love with for a long time. Leon's relationship just ends at one point and that's the last you hear of it, but Tiffy's - I've never hated a fictional ex-boyfriend so much in my life. Tiffy's ex, Justin, pops up throughout the book, but we will get to that.
Let's focus on the real couple - Tiffy and Leon.
I LOOOOVE the fact that their relationship started with Post-It notes. Anyone who has ever shared a flat with someone in uni will know the dreaded 'passive-aggressive Post-It Notes' situation. The book even makes a joke about this very thing, with highly overthinking but kind Tiffy keen to point out straight off that she is in fact not trying to be passive-aggressive at all:
Would you mind putting the toilet seat down please?
I'm afraid I was unable to write this note in a way that didn't sound passive-aggressive - seriously, it's something about the note form, you pick up a pen and a Post-It note and you immediately become a bitch - so I'm just styling it out. I might put some smiley faces to really hammer the thing home.
There are smiley faces all along the bottom of the note.'
Ah, those were the days. This simple fact did just make me laugh because it was so relatable. Not just with Post-It notes, but say with texts that sound a bit dry, or a work e-mail that seems almost too formal - I'm always chucking smiley faces in everywhere to try and make it known to the reader that I'm in fact perfectly happy despite the potential tone. So yeah, that made me laugh.
Eventually, these Post-It notes grow in size until they are plastered all over the flat, starting with a wee note to say there's some leftover food in the fridge to full-blown life stories. The pair get to know each other through writing and through actually living together and, though that idea is so simple, I loved it so much because it's true. They would note things about each other like Tiffy's eccentric fashion sense from the clothes in the wardrobe, or how Leon always has to have a cup of coffee in the morning but quite often leaves it unfinished and out on the counter if he has to rush off for work in the hospice. Leon would find manuscripts of the books Tiffy was working on for work. It was just so cute because it's the little things about a person that truly make up a relationship, and they developed that without even knowing each other. They do say you don't truly know someone until you live together, after all.
I dog-eared (sorry if this offends any book lovers) some pages containing quotes that I loved and knew I wanted to share on the blog. All are from Tiffy, who I relate to a bit too much. One in particular pretty much summarises what I was talking about above, about how they got to know each other from noting things about the other through living together. This quote is taken from after their first meeting:
'He hands me a suitably strong cup of tea. This is the first cup of tea he's ever made me, but - just like I know how milky he likes his - he must've figured out how I drink mine. It's weird how easily you can get to know someone from the traces they leave behind.'
I absolutely love that sentence: 'It's weird how easily you can get to know someone from the traces they leave behind.' If you think about it, it's so incredibly true. Actions say a lot more about a person than words ever do.
Another moment of Tiffy's that I thought worth noting (and dog-earing) for the blog:
'My dad likes to say, "Life is never simple." This is one of his favourite aphorisms. I actually think it's incorrect. Life is often simple, but you don't notice how simple it was until it gets complicated, like how you never feel grateful for being well until you're ill, or how you never appreciate your tights drawer until you rip a pair and have no spares.'
This quote appealed to the over-thinker in me as I am constantly making my life more complicated than it needs to be. It was also unique in the sense that it was one of the only moments in the book that attempted a sort of grand life message. Of course, though, this had to be dialled down with a bit of humour, and so the sentence tails off on tights to bring it back to Tiffy and the story. But though even the idea of not appreciating your tights until you rip them and have no spares is simple, it is also so extremely true. I think in contemporary romances such as these, they work and usually comfort the reader for the fact that they're so simply relatable. It's the mere basic interactions or occurrences that always hit you and you're like 'Man, that is so true.' I, again, certainly found myself thinking throughout the book that it's sad how much I relate to Tiffy. She reminds me of Bridget Jones, and how my mum often compares me with her. That'll give you an indication of me, and how my life generally goes.
But anyway, back to the book at hand. I loved the development of Tiffy and Leon's relationship, like I said, and the way O'Leary did it made them an actual likeable, tangible couple. Too often in romances do people just fall in love straight away and you're sitting there like 'Hold on a minute, you just met a second ago.' So it was nice that this was drawn out, and that they had a chance to get to know the little things about each other first before declaring their love for one another.
They also had a lot to go through together, like Leon's brother being in prison and Tiffy having a psycho ex stalking her. All in all, they had a lot of serious things to go through together too, that in the end, made them a much stronger couple.
The book itself doesn't offer me much else to discuss other than that I loved it and found it a really comforting read. Everyone knows, in the year and a bit that we've had, it's truly all we can ask of entertainment these days. As soon as I finished The Flat Share I went looking for similar titles, and plan on reading The 24-Hour Cafe by Libby Page and Uncoupling by Lorraine Brown (if anyone has read either of these titles, or has suggestions for other books similar I should check out, I would love to know).
So yes. In summary - I loved The Flat Share. If you're looking for a comforting, light-hearted read containing a realistic, genuine couple, then this is the book for you. Again I'll acknowledge that I haven't said much about the book - but that's because there's not much to say. You either take to the couple or you don't, I suppose, as that's the main driving force behind the book. I, for one, loved it though, and know that it's a book that I will definitely pick up again in future when I'm looking for a nice read. I'm aware Beth O'Leary has written another book called The Switch and also, as I found out today from the Waterstones newsletter, bringing out another book called The Road Trip, so I'm sure this won't be the last time I'm writing about Beth O'Leary's writing on the blog. (Also just a note, if you want to save money, would suggest NOT signing up for the Waterstones newsletter).
Anyway, thanks for reading as always!