The Roommates by Rachel Sargeant

This psychological thriller novel by Rachel Sargeant is not a book that I would normally go for. Having said that, here are my honest thoughts on the novel.

It starts in a great way by letting the reader know that we’re in the past of one of the characters. Immediately, I was curious to know what their present was like following the suicide attempt that was presumably unsuccessful. There was also a lot of name dropping without much background detail, so I was even more curious as to their connection with each other. However, Sargeant strategically then jumps to the present and focuses on the life of Imo instead of Amber. This plot structure is indicative of just how well she has structured the rest of the novel. There are cliff hangers of different extremities placed at the end of chapters such as when Phoenix looks in confusion to whatever her hacking has led her to or when they enter the cellar of the suspects’ home.[1] The story is truly filled to the brim with suspense, so much so, that it had me nervous about my own surroundings. 

Not only was the plot well done but also the characters making this book perfect for university students to read. Take for instance the variety of students that truly reflect reality. Imo’s worry over missing a lecture is something that some students may relate to extremely well. On the other hand, some students would relate more to Tegan’s planning ahead of the lectures she’s going to miss. There is also the fact that many of the characters aren’t happy with their home/personal lives; they have taken the opportunity that is starting university as a chance to paint a different picture of their reality. Lauren is an example of this. She paints herself as the gothic outcast when in reality she is young mum just trying to sort her life out.

Another technique that Sargeant has nailed is the details about student life which makes the book seem that much more realistic, adding to its unsettling feel. There is the university-specific talk such as a reading week, who will be doing what chores, student loans, etc. There is also a more general sense of realism in which both student and nonstudent readers would relate to. For instance, there is a reference to Imo’s use of Tinder and interesting conversation between Imo and Lauren where the latter gives the former unsolicited advice on treating her acne. Something which I believe many readers can relate to; that being, given unasked and unwanted advice.

Sargeant has also been successful in something that many creators in the 21st century must be aware of. Diversity. She has included characters from different ethnic and racial backgrounds such as Tegan’s Thai step mum, Riku the British Korean roommate and the black potential love interest of Tegan’s. Whilst, unfortunately, none of the above are of central importance to the novel, except perhaps Riku, there is a clear sense of diversity. The LGBTQ are also represented through their stall set up at fresher’s fayre and Sargeant alluding to Phoenix’s interest in the girl running the stall. However, the portrayal of Riku is of interest in that it highlights something about western society. The roommates all eventually assume that he can’t understand English and so talk about him as if he isn’t there. This demeaning behavior eventually comes back to teach them a lesson that people shouldn’t make quick assumptions about people of colour or use stereotypes to assume skin colour has any correlation with individuals language abilities. Riku eventually comes to hold a critical place in the novel as he is key to saving Amber.

Overall, I sincerely believe that this book has been one of my most enjoyable reads and would recommend to both students and nonstudents alike. A great thank you to Rachel Sargeant for the wonderfully gripping novel she has gifted us with.

[1] Rachel Sargeant, The Roommates (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2019) p. 146, 273

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