“If you want a psychologically-inclined romance with an edge of what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life, you’d do a lot worse” – Making Space by Sarah Tierney

Things aren’t going very well for Miriam: at the age of twenty-nine, having made zero headway in a TV career she’s not even sure about anymore, she’s stuck in a cycle of shitty temp jobs. Related: she shares a flat with a passive-aggressive bitch, her bed’s barely big enough for a grown-up, she can’t sleep, and her neighbour listens to really loud porn. She tries to have an existential spring-clean by dumping all her stuff in the charity shop, but that doesn’t work; she gets a job answering phones for a firm that masquerades as other, even shoddier, firms, but that doesn’t work either. And then she meets Erik: a Slovakian artist and fashion photographer who needs somebody – Miriam, natch – to help him sort out his life. Erik’s life is, as you might have guessed, a lot messier than Miriam’s: he’s a hoarder. Daytime TV would salivate over Erik: attractive, intelligent, depressive, secretive, older, and surrounded by a decaying mansion’s worth of magazines, newspapers and books. And he needs to get it in order, because his teenage daughter’s coming to live with him. And, having seen Miriam hand over all her earthly goods to the staff at Barnardo’s, he reckons she’s the woman for the job. And one thing leads to another, et cetera and so on.

This is a quick read with a relatively simple plot; it’s a will-they-won’t-they relationship drama with a pretty low-key, introspective bent. Obviously there are twists and turns – Erik’s past isn’t quite what we thought we saw coming; Miriam’s career troubles take a novel turn – but what we’ve got here is essentially girl-meets-boy, with the added psychological drama of hoarding to complicate the boy’s-not-in-a-good-place element of the plot, and a healthy dollop of self-awareness from Miriam to leaven the girl-thinks-she-can-fix-him bit. It’s a good theme: mental/emotional baggage (they’re each a mess) and physical baggage (he’s got too much, she’s got too little) is, in a way, an easy parallel, but the hoarding is visually compelling, and Tierney handles it carefully: there’s always a sense that this isn’t a battle Erik (or Miriam) will win, but that that’s okay – rather than advocate for wholesale fresh starts, the book advocates more for patience and attentiveness and understanding. Good for hoarding, good for life, right? Well, maybe. There’s a nice ambiguousness, or ambivalence, here: hope edged with realism. It’s also funny: Miriam’s conversations with her flatmate, Jessica, and Jessica’s personality-free boyfriend, not to mention with her colleagues at City Business Services, are painfully sharp in their attention to petty detail. Plus the book’s Manchester setting appeals to us here in the North – Chorlton and Whalley Range feature heavily, and Morecambe gets a day-trip cameo.

Any Cop? It didn’t set us alight, but the premise was interesting enough to keep us going, and Miriam’s sardonic narration was consistently entertaining. If you want a psychologically-inclined romance with an edge of what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life, you’d do a lot worse.

 

Valerie O’Riordan

 

 

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