Book Review: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Published May 2016
Chatto & Windus
Bickering neighbors Hortensia and Marion form an Odd Couple-esque relationship.
The Woman Next Door is not a friend.
Hortensia and Marion are long-time neighbors and enemies. Both are old, widowed, and hold more than a small grudge against life’s unexpected turns. One is black, and one is white.
Each woman represents what the other wants but can’t have. One has a happy marriage under her belt with lots of children. The other has financial security and a long, well-respected career.
When they find they need each other for a time, it’s a move that disappoints them both. But for all of their differences, they find their barbs taking on softer edges until a friendship has blossomed.
Oh, gag. The fact that I just used the phrase “until a friendship has blossomed” would normally be enough to make me run for the hills.
I generally take my books without cream and sugar.
What saves The Woman Next Door from becoming treacly is the main characters themselves. Hortensia and Marion are world-weary, bitter at the treasures they’ve missed in life. They’ve each dealt with too many of life’s blows, each one knocking a little more happiness away until bitter husks remain.
It’s an easy trap, bitterness. Decades of a bad marriage or career disappointment or a widowhood with no money can do that to a person. They’ve both feasted at the banquet of life only to find it full of crappy appetizers and no dessert.
Goodness, I’m rife with cliches and mixed metaphors today!
The upshot: their crankiness keeps the story from becoming a Hallmark movie. If anything, the author could have included even more details of their feud.
Hortensia and Marion’s coupling (non-romantic, of course) reminds me somewhat of Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple. Except it’s tinged with racial inequity and disappointing life experiences. And their differences go beyond housekeeping foibles.
The Woman Next Door’s buzz misses the mark just a bit. It’s not a comedy; not laugh-out-loud. Rather, it’s sometimes drily whimsical, sometimes hmph-worthy in that “ain’t life a b****” sort of way.