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Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

As I began reading the first few sentences of Small Spaces, I was at once curious. Sarah Epstein introduces mystery into her novel right away. This mystery continued throughout the story, gradually unravelling as I read on, but opening yet more questions.

Small Spaces follows Tash Carmody, who has been traumatised since childhood when she witnessed her disturbing imaginary friend named Sparrow lure Mallory Fisher away from a carnival.

The story is told through Tash’s perspective. Throughout the story, we witness Tash’s anxiety as distressing memories of her past return. Tash’s voice was authentic, yet she was unreliable because of her uncertainty with reality. Her thought processes were realistic to me, often obsessive and incessant. There were times when I found Tash infuriating, although I believe this is what supported the realism of her character, given her past trauma. Tash’s anxiety and post-traumatic stress were gritty and disturbing. It reminded me of the harsh nature of mental illness and how you can still lead a normal life but still be affected by it. It affected her at school and her relationship with her family and friends. What I found most interesting was learning how our fears can turn us into puppets at their control. “We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.”

Small Spaces is cleverly crafted. In between each of the chapters from the present day, there are shorter chapters of flashback. These both weave together to build the mystery yet reveal important details that explain why Tash is the way she is today. Epstein writes beautifully. Her description was original and sensual, bringing Tash’s surroundings and internal thoughts alive. I felt like I was in the story, seeing and feeling what Tash was.

The ending of the story absolutely messed with my head. It was horrifying and gripping. I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the last page; I just had to know what happened next. It made me question the difference between reality and imagination. Is it safe to trust your own mind? This story creeped me out yet kept me coming back for more. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fast-paced, psychological thriller!

Reviewer: Emma Jackson

Walker Books, RRP $22.99