Review: The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary. Reviewed by Ilona Hanne.

I didn't expect to love this book quite as much as I did.

I thought it would be a light read, forgotten within minutes of finishing the last page.

The book's premise seemed ridiculously silly when I first heard about it. Two people (Tiffy and Leon) living in London share a flat, and a bed, but have never met - they work (and sleep) opposite shifts.

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It struck me as a completely unbelievable situation, and I ordered the book from the library purely because I wanted to find out how the bed share actually worked. Did they change the bedding every day, where did Leon go when he wasn't at work but Tiffy was still asleep?.

I may have ordered the book to satisfy my curiosity, but I read it in one sitting because it was so good. In case you're wondering - they slept on opposite sides so didn't change the sheets every sleep, and Leon went to his girlfriend's....

Just as the incredibly likeable and believable Tiffy and Leon found themselves surprised by life and love in the book, so I was surprised by how much I loved their story.

While the main storyline is undeniably upbeat and positive, the book isn't without some seriously emotional and gripping moments. We meet some less than likeable characters, including an ex boyfriend turned stalker as well as some delightful ones such as Mr Prior, a war veteran who knits beautiful scarves while wishing he had the courage to act on his feelings many years ago.

O'Leary might be telling an upbeat tale, but she uses her voice to bring attention to some less than upbeat facts in society. She forces the reader to witness gaslighting in colour, as Tiffy comes to terms with her past relationship and starts seeing it through fresh eyes, giving a voice to the many women stuck in relationships like it as she tells the story.

Conditions in prison also come in for a critical comment or three, as do the lengthy waits for appeals faced by many going through the courts. As for Mr Prior's lost love, that story also reminds us it was just a few decades ago that homosexuality wasn't allowed in the military.

While the book is fiction, O'Leary makes sure to ground the reader in a healthy dose of realism as well.

It's not a long or heavy read - just 391 pages of a well-written, humorous story that wraps itself around you just like one of Mr Prior's scarves. Order it from the library and curl up by the fire with a mug of tea and let yourself fall in love with Tiffy, Leon and their story.


■ This regular column showcases some of the books available to borrow from the Stratford or South Taranaki book catalogues. The books are chosen by our editorial team.

As well as borrowing books from the Stratford Library, Stratford library card holders can also borrow books from the South Taranaki book catalogue at no extra cost.

This shared service is very popular, with over 300 books moving between the libraries each week. Library users can reserve books online regardless of which library they belong to and can also return issued books to the Stratford Library or any of the seven South Taranaki libraries.

Reserving items is free. Library members are notified by email or a phone call when reserved items are ready to collect.

All of the books reviewed in this column are available to borrow through the library system.