Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein
I’m a big fan of the psychological thriller genre, and this wonderfully spooky read will have you on the edge of your seat. I read this book fast, my pulse racing, rushing through to the fast-paced climax. I had to read the last part of the book in the daytime, otherwise I’d have needed to leave the lights on to fall asleep!
As the story opens, it quickly becomes clear that seventeen-year-old narrator Tash is unable to tolerate enclosed spaces. What has happened to instigate this extreme claustrophobia?
We soon learn that, as a child, Tash watched as her chillingly creepy imaginary friend Sparrow lead six-year-old Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. Everyone – including her friends and family - thought Tash was making up stories about Sparrow just to get attention.
With the help of a psychologist, Tash has come to uneasily accept that her mind was playing tricks on her. But then Mallory Fisher’s family returns to town, and the old doubts and fears start to resurface. Not only this - but it seems that Sparrow has suddenly reappeared – a dark shadowy figure at the periphery of her vision…
This is a book edged with darkness, secrets and mystery that will leave you with your heart racing. We know there is a secret to uncover, and the only person who can uncover it is Mallory Fisher. The problem being that since she disappeared from the carnival as a young child, Mallory hasn’t spoken since. How can a mute and traumatised fifteen-year-old possibly help uncover the truth?
Small Spaces is perfectly structured and paced – crafting psychological thrillers is no easy task– hints must be cleverly dropped at key points, and characters around the protagonist must have an edge to them, like any one of them could be the suspect.
We start to wonder who Tash can trust – and most compellingly, can she even trust herself?
Everyone close to Tash – her parents, friends and psychologist - has doubted Tash’s stories about Sparrow, so the reader can’t help but also question Tash’s reliability. Why is Mallory so wary of Tash when they meet again? Why are people close to Tash getting hurt? Tash is a well-drawn narrator - it is impossible not to empathise and care about what happens to her, while simultaneously questioning her reliability.
The rural NSW setting is evocatively portrayed and is the perfect backdrop for this story – there is a chilling sense of isolation that is conveyed via the windswept, open spaces. I also love how the setting gives this story a uniquely Australian vibe.
And, of course, the carnival where Mallory goes missing is the perfect creepy setting for a thriller such as this – with the clowns, colour and chaos a cover for the darkness that is happening within. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
Sarah Epstein handles her characters and subject matter with assurance.
This is a chilling, dark-edged, fast-paced read, that throbs with secrets and questions.
With its intriguing plot twists and turns, and that feeling you get while reading that you need to keep looking over your shoulder, this is the perfect reading choice as Halloween approaches!
Published by Walker Books.
Small Spaces has been optioned for film by Triptych Pictures.
• Winner of the Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Crime Novel 2019
• Honour Book in the CBCA Book of The Year Awards 2019