The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune

cartoon type cover with a red-haired white girl on the left and a brown-skinned guy in a blue shirt on the right with a wall in between where the titles are written as on the spine of a bookWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  What if your roommate is your soul mate? A joyful, quirky romantic comedy, Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare is a feel-good audiobook about finding love in the most unexpected of ways.

Tiffy and Leon share an apartment. Tiffy and Leon have never met.

After a bad breakup, Tiffy Moore needs a place to live. Fast. And cheap. But the apartments in her budget have her wondering if astonishingly colored mold on the walls counts as art.

Desperation makes her open minded, so she answers an ad for a flatshare. Leon, a night shift worker, will take the apartment during the day, and Tiffy can have it nights and weekends. He’ll only ever be there when she’s at the office. In fact, they’ll never even have to meet.

Tiffy and Leon start writing each other notes – first about what day is garbage day, and politely establishing what leftovers are up for grabs, and the evergreen question of whether the toilet seat should stay up or down. Even though they are opposites, they soon become friends. And then maybe more.

But falling in love with your roommate is probably a terrible idea…especially if you’ve never met.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I’d had my eye on this book ever since a friend recommended it on Goodreads. I listened to a sample of the audiobook before agreeing though because new-to-me narrators can be a bit dicey and it’s not fun to slog through a bad audio and it’s not fun to write a review about it. I didn’t get to hear any of the male narrator, Kwaku Fortune, on the Audible sample but Carrie Hope Fletcher’s voice was enough to have me signing up. As it happened, both narrators were very good – although I do have a couple of quibbles which I’ll talk about later – and I’ll happily listen to each of them again.

Told in the alternating (but not always evenly) point of view of Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey, both twenty-something Londoners. Leon needs some extra money and works as a palliative care nurse on night shifts at a hospice. He spends weekends with his girlfriend, so he rents out his one bedroom flat for the nights and weekends for £350 per month. He gets the flat between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday. Tiffy rents the flat for the rest of the time.

Tiffy needs to move out of her ex-boyfriend’s flat. Justin walked out and hasn’t come back. It’s not the first time and it’s clear that Tiffy thinks initially it won’t be the last, but the final straw comes when Justin comes back to the flat with Patricia. Tiffy knows she has to move out. She owes Justin back rent and he’s collecting so she doesn’t have a lot of cash. As an assistant editor for a niche book publisher (they publish quirky DIY books) she doesn’t make a lot of money. Leon’s flat is perfect. She’s at work Monday to Friday anyway.

(As an aside, I wondered for the entire book what happened if either one of them got sick. I mean, if Tiffy has the flu and needs to stay in bed all day she’s going to be out of luck, right?? Still, as a set up for the book, it worked so I decided not to question it too much.)

Tiffy’s best friends, Mo and Gertie, who share a (very small) flat of their own (there is talk of Tiffy perhaps fitting under the dining table if she was only shorter) are dubious but they don’t like Justin and are only too happy to have her away from his influence so they agree.

Leon’s girlfriend, Kay, is less than excited by the prospect of a GIRL moving in. However, because reasons, it is Kay who meets Tiffy at the flat and makes all of the in-person arrangements. Kay decides Tiffy is no threat but makes a rule that Lean and Tiffy are never to meet, just in case.

For a good chunk of the book, Tiffy and Leon do not meet. They share the same flat and even the same bed (different sides of it and yes, there is discussion about sheets) but they’re never there at the same time. They communicate via post-its which range in tone from the banal – “what night is bin night?” to the more profound, particularly when Tiffy bakes because she is depressed about Justin, who pops up at annoying and random times throughout the book to mess with her. Over the course of months, they get to know one another well through their notes and so does the listener.

The book is more than Post-it notes – there are sections about Tiffy’s life and Leon’s life as well but the notes are a big part of the early story. I was a little worried that they would only meet right at the end a la Serendipity or Sleepless in Seattle (both of which I hated for that very reason – honestly what is the point of a romance if the main characters don’t actually meet until right at the end?? *shakes fist*) but happily this was not a thing.

At about the time when I was beginning to feel a bit antsy, things change up and, while the notes continue through the book – Leon still works nights and Tiffy days after all – they do meet and have interesting adventures separately and together. I won’t go into much more because the delight of the book is hearing it unfold as it goes. It was one of those stories I was happy not to know too much about going in – other than that it had a HEA (and it does!).

Leon is described as having brown skin and there are some references to the racism he and his brother, Richie, have experienced but not a lot of page time spent about his background. His father was Irish and he has an Irish accent but he clearly has a mixed heritage. I’m not sure whether it not being mentioned is a good thing because it wasn’t important to the story and shows effortless diversity or whether someone’s heritage is always important and it not being mentioned was disrespectful. I’ll leave that for others with skin in the game to decide.

Tiffy is, in some ways, a manic pixie dream girl but I adored her. She’s quirky yes, but funny and kind and generous and she’s not so quirky it’s just for show or annoying. She’s confident in her look and herself and I loved that about her. Well, her confidence takes a nosedive when it comes to Justin, but apart from him? All thumbs up. Justin is a piece of work and it becomes very clear over the course of the book that he’s been gaslighting her and emotionally abusing her for years. Tiffy has to work her way through that revelation and her friends and Leon support her in that but it is work Tiffy has to do. Some of what Tiffy deals with might be an issue for some listeners so consider this a Content Warning.

Leon is a kind but kind of emotionally closed-off guy – he’s close to only a very few people and everyone else he keeps at a distance. Tiffy however worms her way into his affections via Post-it and the evolution of it is delightful. For all that he’s not effusive, he does feel deeply and it’s apparent throughout the book. He’s kind and respectful and consent and agency are important to him – so he’s entirely perfect and perfect for Tiffy, especially after the toxic mess that was/is Justin.

I’ve often seen criticism of dual first person present tense that there is little difference between the two character voices. This is not the case here. Leon’s voice is distinctly different and it did take a bit of getting used to. He thinks (and writes notes) in lists form, not using personal pronouns much or the usual joining words like “this” or “there” or “the” etc. Here is his very first paragraph as an example:

Phone rings as Doctor Patel is prescribing meds for Holly (little girl with leukaemia). Bad timing. Very bad timing. Doctor Patel not happy at interruption, and makes her feelings clear. Seems to have forgotten that I, too, as night nurse, should have gone home at 8 a.m., and yet am still here dealing with ill people and grouchy consultants like Doctor Patel.

It does take a little getting used to. I found myself jarred by it when Leon’s POV would first start, then getting used to it and forgetting it was a thing until the next time I’d been with Tiffy’s thoughts and picked up with Leon again. Of course, on audio, the change in narrator is the easiest signal there’s been a POV switch and so a change in ‘voice’ isn’t as essential as in print. But it ended up working for me. Honestly I think it would have bugged me more in print where the absence of those words would be like an itch in the middle of my back I’m unable to scratch. I can’t even cope with a tweet written this way! But on audio I am more adventurous and it was easier to go with because it feels like being in Leon’s head where grammar rules don’t apply so much as they do in written form.

What else? For the most part, the narration by both performers was great. I liked them both and found them easy and pleasing to listen to. They were technically good as well, with great pacing and tension and emotion appropriate to the story. I liked the little additions too, like the echo when someone is speaking via a phone line. But there were a couple of things which didn’t quite work for me.

Neither narrator made much effort to deliver a believable character voice of another gender. That is, Ms. Fletcher didn’t try to deliver a male character voice and Mr. Fortune didn’t try to deliver a female character voice (although I will say he did make some attempt to soften his tones slightly) and that felt a bit strange. Mr. Fortune did deliver a number of accents and so characters were distinguishable that way but Ms. Fletcher didn’t even do that. In fact, at one point in the audiobook “Tiffy” says that she won’t even attempt the accent of a particular person. Which felt odd unless it was added in just for the audiobook? I couldn’t work out why it would appear in the print book because Tiffy wasn’t speaking at that time. So if felt like Ms. Fletcher was breaking the fourth wall to tell me directly she couldn’t do the accent and wasn’t going to try? Leon speaks with a distinctive Irish accent but when he speaks from Tiffy’s POV, he speaks just like her (but with less pronouns). That felt weird because I was going from one to the other the whole book. When in Tiffy’s perspective, there was so little difference between character voices that I had to rely on dialogue tags to know who was speaking – regardless of the gender or age of the character.

That said, I still highly recommend the audiobook. The story works so well on audio and even though I had a couple of issues with the performances, the charm of both narrators and the warmheartedness of the story was more than enough to overcome them.

There were moments I laughed out loud during the story as well as bonus crocheting hijinks, an adventure at a Welsh castle, a bittersweet secondary romance and more than one HEA. Now, can someone make The Flatshare the movie please?

Grade: A-


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