I started reading Small Spaces at night. On the one hand, it really amped up the chilling mood. On the other hand, I finished it at 2am & then every noise around the house became an OH GOD WHAT WAS THAT?! noise. Let me tell you, as someone with an already overactive imagination, it was a wild ride getting to sleep. It was all worth it, though, because Sarah Epstein has written a truly captivating, spine-tingling and thought-provoking debut novel.
When Tash Carmody was a kid, she saw her frightening imaginary friend Sparrow lure a young girl named Mallory from a carnival. Thankfully Mallory came home, but no one believed Tash’s story, and as she grew older she accepted that Sparrow wasn’t real. But Tash is in for a shock when Sparrow – and the memories associated with him – start to resurface just as Mallory and her family move back to town. Will Tash be able to uncover the truth about what really happened that terrible day at the carnival?
One of the best elements of this novel is that your mind is constantly changing about which characters you can trust – even Tash.
Having an unreliable narrator is brilliant because not only are you second guessing other characters along with Tash, you’re starting to question her motives and memories as well. But what I thought was really interesting was that Tash shared the same fears as the reader – she asks herself a few times whether or not she can be trusted. And because you become so attached to Tash and want good things for her, you’re immersed in the mystery even more and the reveals are so much more heightened.
Sarah has created an atmospheric and oftentimes eerie world in her novel, where the locations become characters in their own right. I got chills, they’re multiplying… and while Grease and Small Spaces both feature a carnival, I know I’d rather be singing and dancing around in a carefree manner than replaying memories of a creeptastic not-so-fun-fair in my mind like poor Tash is made to do. Then there’s also Willow Creek House, the place where Sparrow tormented Tash as a child & where her Aunt Ally lives. Tash has a very apt description for the abode:
“After that visit when I was eight, I’ve had no desire to return to Willow Creek House, with its crack-riddled stucco like the caked-on face paint of a leering clown. I remember the way dampness clung to cushions like mouldering dead spots, the unsettling way shadows reached for me behind my back as the sun moved across the sky.” (pg. 108)
The book is also engaging in the way it switches from ‘now’ and ‘then’ across the chapters. We start with the present day story and then get the chance to revisit scenes from when Tash was eight years old. Sarah also includes transcript notes between Tash and her psychiatrist, Dr Ingrid Ballantine, which allow you to really tap into the fears and confusion younger Tash had about Sparrow and the carnival incident. The flashbacks are also instrumental in laying the groundwork for hints and clues to the mystery. But don’t expect them to work as a ‘breather’ in amongst all the action – some of the most chilling aspects of the novel stem from the descriptions of Sparrow and his ominous presence in Tash’s life.
Small Spaces is truly gripping, has compelling connections between characters, will play on your mind… and might make you check under the bed before you go to sleep.