When two old ladies go to war
has accumulated over the decades.
When an accident forces the two neighbours to cross the barrier of hate that has solidified over the years, the pettiness of their rivalry transforms into a profound relationship built on shared memories rooted in shame, guilt and love.
In her second novel, Yewande Omotoso weaves the layers of the main characters’ personal narratives throughout the story delicately and deliberately, in a way that can only be truly appreciated after reading the last page. Although the racially charged hostility between Hortensia and Marion initially comes off as a slightly overblown rivalry between embittered old folk, the nature of the relationship stems from the emotionally challenging pasts on which both women now sit and reflect. Readers must be patient with any frustrations they may feel with each character and trust that, upon learning more of the women’s lives while progressing through the plot, secrets will unfold, thoughts will be triggered and perceptions will be changed.
As Hortensia and Marion grapple with the dramas of old age and death, Omotoso unearths a buried discourse surrounding the skeletons in South Africa’s post-apartheid closet, including land rights, reconciliation and white guilt. She artfully offsets these darker themes that demand to be addressed by incorporating lighter tales on the fragility of love and diasporic triumph.
By the end of The Woman Next Door, the two characters have matured in the reader’s imagination from two mean senior citizens who hate each other to two troubled, romantic and passionate women with fatal flaws that are useless to fix so late in their lives. Omotoso paints these two characters over the course of the plot slowly and steadily with an eloquence and degree of humour that sometimes warrants a line to be read two or three times for maximum appreciation. Although the two regularly engage in lively debate after being forced together, whether Hortensia and Marion manage to create something one can call a friendship, however, remains up for interpretation.