Thursday, September 28, 2017
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
***Spoiler alert! I mentioned a couple plot points that I personally enjoyed having revealed to me during the reading. I dislike knowing much of anything about what's going to happen in a book before I read it. If you also feel that way, please skip down to the highlighted recommendation line to avoid spoilers.***
The Woman Next Door tells the story of two women in South Africa - one black, one white. They're next-door neighbors and they hate each other. Marion, the white woman, is casually racist and not self-aware, so she doesn't realize she's racist,, although it shows in even the little things she does. Like buying one-ply toilet tissue for her housekeeper and two-ply for herself (until she finds out the housekeeper is buying her own three-ply and rushes out to get some of her own).
Hortensia, the black woman, has become hardened since her husband's affair, 40 years back. When Marion finds out she's going bankrupt and will have to sell her home, she digs in her attic for a valuable painting purchased specifically as an investment. She wants to hide it from the bank because it's valuable enough to at least keep her in a decent home for the rest of her life.
When Hortensia's husband dies and the will instructs her to call her deceased husband's daughter from his affair, she resists and starts on a project to remodel her house so she won't have to think about it. But, there's an accident on the first day. Hortensia's leg is broken and Marion's home is damaged. The painting disappears. They still hate each other, but through shared tragedies, the two women slowly get to know each other and share their broken pasts.
Highly recommended - I adored the characters. They're both nasty in a curmudgeonly way, having been broken by life, somehow. But, at the same time, you can't help but be utterly charmed by their dialogue. The story really is a delight. I chose to read The Woman Next Door because of the word "delightful" on the cover, having just finished a suspense. It was absolutely the perfect follow-up to a darker read. I think The Woman Next Door would also make a pretty good discussion book. The racism and misogyny experienced by the two women should be excellent fodder for group discussion.
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