The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst – a rom-com for MSN-missing millennials

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The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst is a comedy of errors rom-com that will have MSN-missing millennials feeling nostalgic of their teenage years in the noughties, while equally relating to that locked-in feeling we’ve only recently recovered from post-Covid. 

The story begins when Ellen, nursing the hangover from hell, wakes up to discover that the kitchen is flooding due to a pipe leak. Panicking, she wakes all of her housemates up in a bid to help switch the waterworks off, and finds herself, along with Jack, Alexa and her date from the night before locked in the attic with a dead mouse, a broken doorknob and no mobile phone signal.

It’s very much an ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’ situation I could definitely have seen my university friends getting into when they shared a rented house in Stoke-on-Trent, which probably played into why it was an oh-so relatable read that repeatedly had me belly-laughing, cringing and wondering what I would have done in the same situation.

A good 90 per cent of the novel is set at 49 Rokeby Close – a shared accommodation ran by a tyrant of a landlord, which only adds to the stress and panic for the hungover ex-students locked in the loft with no way of escape or means to contact the outside world – besides screaming from the skylight – while water rises down below.

As they await rescue, Ellen and Alexa’s new love interest, Ben, realise they grew up in the same small town and run in the same circles. While reminiscing about sneaking into clubs underage and infamous house parties gone wrong, talk turns to embarrassing MSN usernames, which is when Ellen makes the horrifying realisation that she knows Ben better than she first thought.

All the while, hapless housemate Jack has one bar of weak WiFi signal, and instead of telling the rest of the group, a taste of social media stardom sees him live tweet the dramatic event with all the gory details. Which, speaking as a journalist, is viral news gold, to be fair. 

The Lock In is the perfect rom-com for fans of Beth O’Leary, Laura Jane Williams and Dolly Alderton. Written by a millennial, for millennials, it’s a hilarious tale of housemates, hangovers and horrors that feels very much like an episode of Friday Night Dinner.

Phoebe Luckhurst, born in 1990, is a Senior Editor with bylines in The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, Elle, ES Magazine, Grazia, the Telegraph and Vogue, who, from her bio, sounds like she’d have fitted right into the house share with Ellen, Alexa and Jack. 

Her author profile reads: “Phoebe has had the theme tune to The OC stuck in her head since 2003 and once almost spent her student loan on a micro-pig. She no longer shops online when drunk.”

Those born pre-Spice Up Your Life will relish in references to sibling spats to get onto the shared family desktop computer to chat to your mates on MSN, plus the excruciatingly recognisable messages shared and attention tactics used on the OG communication channel to get that person to notice you’re online. 

Phoebe’s characters feel incredibly real, so much so that when you read them sharing their stories of their teenage antics, you almost want to jump in and share yours with them. You can feel the awkwardness of the situations and the secondhand-embarrassment from the conversations.

This novel isn’t without its flaws, though, as I did find some parts difficult to believe, such as how two people could stand at one end of the attic and not be able to hear the other two conversing at the other end. Additionally, I think Phoebe should have made Ellen slightly younger in her MSN-obsessed days. I just feel like at 17-nearly-18 she’d have had more important things to worry about, and that 15-16 would have been a more suitable and believable age for this interaction to have affected her so deeply, and for so long thereafter.

That said, it’s a joyful and nostalgic rom-com that’s blessed with realistic characters and laugh-out-loud moments that resonate with a generation who find themselves stuck between rented accommodation, poorly paid jobs and dating app disasters. 

You can buy The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst on Amazon here.

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