LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR? EASIER SAID THAN DONE
The Woman Next Door is the latest novel from Yewande Omotoso.
Just released earlier this year by Chatto & Windus, I received my copy from http://www.writing.ie in return for an honest review.
‘Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed. Both are living with questions, disappointments, secrets. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hatred and pruning both with a vim and zeal that belies the fact that they are both over eighty.
But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. And gradually the bickering and sniping softens into lively debate, and from there into memories shared. But could these sparks of connection ever transform into friendship? Or is it too late to expect these two to change?’
‘It was known that the two women shared hedge and hatred and they pruned both with a vim that belied their ages.’
This is the kind of line in a book I love. It’s on pg 12 and immediately I could feel the hatred between these two octogenarians jumping off the page. The women in question are Hortensia James and Marion Agostino.
Hortensia James, is a retired & once renowned textile designer. In the opening few chapters, we are introduced to her life and the fact her husband Peter is dying. Hortensia is a woman of few words but when she speaks she does so with scathing and hurtful remarks. Admittedly, Hortensia is not a particularly likable character but as you move through the chapters, the reasons for her bitterness toward life become clear.
Marion Agostino, is a retired & also once renowned architect. Her husband, Max, has passed away, leaving Marion with quite a large and unexpected debt that she is struggling to deal with. Marion is the chairperson of the local residents committee in their exclusive estate of Katterijn on the outskirts of Cape Town in South Africa.
Hortensia and Marion are two women from completely different backgrounds.
Hortensia, originally from Barbados and now living in South Africa, via the UK and Nigeria has never been comfortable in Katterijn. ‘They’d arrived to their new home and Hortensia realised that she would be the only black person living in Katterijn as an owner. She’d felt disgust for her surroundings, for the protected white gentry around her and, in her private moments, she felt disgust for herself as well.’ From the beginning she puts up a wall around herself. She has no interest in developing relationships with any of the other neighbours.
Marion is the daughter of immigrants, who fled their homeland of Lithuania before war broke out. She has grown up in South Africa and has very strong beliefs on the segregation of black & white. ‘Yes, most black people were dangerous and they were causing trouble…As a young adult she had explained her country to herself in a way her children were refusing to adopt. With all their prodding it became difficult to see only what was comfortable, to keep looking away from what she’d rather not see. It was in this battle that Marion lost all possibility for happiness.’ The irony of Marion’s attitude is not lost on the reader, with her own parents fleeing their homeland because of persecution and hatred.
Hortensia lives in the house that Marion always wished for. No.10 was Marion’s first design project as a young architect. She lives in No.12 which she purchased with her husband Max and where she gave birth to her four children. Her relationship with her children is a constant source of pain for Marion. She blames her own relationship with her mother as the root cause. Marion, like Hortensia, carries a bitterness in her heart about the unfairness of life. Both women are now alone. Circumstances bring the two women closer together than either would have imagined.
Hortensia’s husband, Peter, leaves a twist in his will, one she was completely unaware of. She must fulfill this wish in order for the will to be valid. Yewande Omotosa depicts Hortensia’s struggle beautifully. The remarks, both witty & hurtful, from Hortensia soften as the novel approaches the end. Hortensia was unable to have children and it caused her a lot of unspoken pain through her life. She finally admits her feelings to Marion in one of the many conversations that eventually take place between them. ‘The more I realised I’d never have children, the more I realised how much I’d really wanted to be a mother. Things weren’t okay between my mummy and I, and I thought I could fix that…you know…with my own children.’
The Woman Next Door is ultimately a book about two women finding each other. Both women are alone. Both women have been left to deal with circumstances that are completely out of their control. Hortensia and Marion discover the beginning of a sweet & lovely relationship, a relationship that neither of them ever seem to have had. Their lives seem to have been one big struggle, with each day a battle with the world around them. They learn how to laugh with each other and at each other.
The Woman Next Door is a heartwarming read. It is a lovely insight into the lives of two women from two completely different backgrounds but yet very similar stories to tell. It is a story of age, loneliness and facing up to one’s mortality. But ultimately it is a story of the development of a beautiful friendship.
IT IS NEVER TOO LATE.
To purchase a copy please click here : https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1784740330
About The Author
Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados and grew up in Nigeria, moving to South Africa with her family in 1992. She is the author of Bom Boy, published in South Africa in 2011. In 2012 she won the South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Author and was shortlisted for the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize. In 2013 she was a finalist in the inaugural, pan-African Etisalat Fiction prize. She lives in Johannesburg, where she writes and has her own architectural practice.