Small Spaces, Sarah Epstein, Walker Books, 2018
From the publisher: “We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.” Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time nobody believed Tash, and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real. Now fifteen and mute, Mallory’s never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash starts to see Sparrow again. And she realises Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she thinks?
In my last review, I mentioned how much of a wuss I am, when it comes to scary books.
This is the only excuse I have for how long it’s taken me to come to Sarah Epstein’s Small Spaces. I was very aware of the buzz about it, when it was first released last year, and I immediately added it to my “TBR” list.
But then …
I wimped out. Because every person who told me how good it is made sure to add a disclaimer:
“It’s also terrifying.”
Earlier this year, I noticed it was on the CBCA Notables longlist. Again, I gave the book fearful side-eyes, trying to work up the courage to finally pick it up. Then, last week, when I asked for book recommendations, again it was the first one mentioned by many of my friends.
Again, telling me it’s brilliant.
Again, telling me it’s terrifying.
Finally, I worked up the courage …
I had to maintain that courage, throughout the book. And if it had been any less brilliant, I probably would have hidden it under my bed, as I did with so many scary books as a child.
Small Spaces is a book for brave readers. But those who dare will be deeply rewarded.
It is a horror story, in the very truest sense of the phrase, but the beating heart of it is the question of whether it is supernatural horror, or horror of the more realistic variety.
Is Sparrow real? Or a ghost? Or a demon?
Or is “he” Tash herself?
How dangerous is Tash, to herself and others? How dangerous are those around her? Can she really trust anyone? Can she even trust her own mind?
As with so many novels of horror and suspense, going too deeply into the themes of the book delves into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that there is so much more going on in Small Spaces than a simple mystery. Mental health is an issue that’s thoroughly unpacked, but it’s only one area that the book examines. The true nature of the book is never revealed until the very end, and this reveal is at once unexpected, heart-breaking, and very – disturbingly – plausible.
Sarah Epstein is a masterful author, adept at the art of the red herring and the plot twist. Every time I thought I had the book all worked out, she tipped everything on its head.
Like a real-life Sparrow (though far less horrifying), she is a virtuoso at playing games with the reader; unfolding her story in a symphony of complicated beauty.
I loved this book, wholeheartedly. Perhaps even enough to read it again (despite the psychological trauma that would cause me), to pick up every clue. I am sorry it took me so long to finally pick it up, but in a way, I’m deeply grateful, too.
If it means a smaller space between this book and the next novel Sarah Epstein delivers. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
I just hope my heart can take it.