(Author: Yewande Omotoso) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)
(Around the World: Barbados)
The Woman Next Door is a story about the years-long feud between two neighbours, Marion and Hortensia, living in post-apartheid South Africa. While Hortensia is a woman of color, grumpy and angry at life, Marion is a racist, white snob. Both are successful in their careers, both are strong willed and don’t like backing down. The sum of all of these characteristic creates a bitter relationship between them which looks like it could not be overcome…
I would not say that this central story that I told you above is the most important one for me in the book. Ultimately, The Woman Next Door narrates the development of the relationship between the two women, but what I enjoyed the most is their separate back-stories, which were not connected to their relationship. At least on the surface. Because looking back at their pasts, one can make sense of what made them who they were.
The back-stories were ones of struggle, of marriage, of dreaming, even. I was mostly touched by both of their respective marriages and love-lives. That being said, I don’t necessarily say I was touched in a good way. Mostly, I felt saddened, even scared to read about how their marriages fell apart, became empty, loveless, passionless. I don’t even think there would have been any development between Marion and Hortensia in terms of companionship if they hadn’t been this lonely and this sad.
Which brings me to what I didn’t like about the book. First, it was very gloomy, upsetting almost. I felt hopeless, not only for the characters’ future, but for the future as a whole. Because the message The Woman Next Door sent was: you will grow old, your partner will stop loving you, your children will abandon you, life will screw you over time and again.
Between the two main characters, I preferred Marion, as rude as this might sound. Because at the end, she was the one who managed to overcome her flaws a lot more than Hortensia did. Both were high level b****es, don’t get me wrong. But Hortensia was too stubborn to even try to change in the slightest. And she was much too bitter. Marion was fooling herself into believing she was right and she was doing good, Hortensia wanted to be mean, she wanted to make people feel bad, to offend them, to be cruel.
However, and this is something that won points for this book, it also seems to be a somewhat realistic picture of the lives of some old people I’ve seen. The bitter/mean part, so it was interesting to see how the entire thought process goes that leads to such meanness.