The Woman Next Door

Public Sector Manager - - Book Review - by Ye­wande Omo­toso Pub­lished by: Pen­guin Ran­dom House

Ye­wande Omo­toso made her lit­er­ary de­but in 2011 with her novel Bom Boy, which was short­listed for the Sun­day Times Fic­tion Prize in 2012. She was born in Bar­ba­dos, grew up in Nige­ria and moved to South African in 1992.Through wit and sub­tle hu­mour, Omo­toso cap­tures the residue of apartheid, racism, so­cial stereo­types, moth­er­hood and the com­plex­i­ties of mar­riage in her lat­est novel.

The Woman Next Door sees two women, Mar­ion Agostino and Horten­sia James wrapped up in ri­valry. Both women, who are now in their 80s, can­not seem to agree on any­thing.

The de­tails of what led to this ri­valry are not dis­tinctly de­fined – other than the fact that they are neigh­bours who come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds. James is black, was born in Bar­ba­dos, stud­ied in Eng­land and moved to South Africa in 1994 with her hus­band. She was the first black per­son to own a home in the up­per class neigh­bour­hood of Kat­ter­ijn in Cape Town.

Agostino is white, a leader in the com­mu­nity of Kat­ter­ijn and a strug­gling mother. Both women have had dif­fi­cul­ties through­out their lives, some­thing Omo­toso man­ages to bring out ex­tremely well in her nar­ra­tive style.

The Woman Next Door is writ­ten in the third per­son and trav­els through time to al­low the reader to fully un­der­stand the main char­ac­ters. For in­stance, in the early stages of her mar­riage, James re­alises that her hus­band is hav­ing an af­fair. After fol­low­ing him she finds out that her worst fears are true, but does noth­ing about it.This builds a wedge in her mar­riage the ele­phant in the room that was never con­fronted and even­tu­ally births bit­ter­ness.

Agostino quit her job to take care of her fam­ily as a young wife. At the time she had a fully-fledged architectural firm, choos­ing to sac­ri­fice the busi­ness to build a fam­ily. Even after such a sac­ri­fice, she still feels she was in­ad­e­quate as a mother.

After the death of James's hus­band an in­ci­dent oc­curs that forces both women, who are sworn en­e­mies, to live in the same house. It is dur­ing this time that they re­alise that they are both hu­man and make some head­way in un­der­stand­ing each other, the his­tory of South Africa, land claims and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Ye­wande does not at­tempt to cre­ate saints through her main char­ac­ters. In­stead, the reader is in­tro­duced to two peo­ple who gen­uinely be­lieve they are cor­rect in hat­ing each other and don't want to sit down and talk it out. Even­tu­ally, when they do open up to each other, they re­alise that they can tol­er­ate each other.

The Woman Next Door is not only im­por­tant but is rel­e­vant.You will also ad­mire Ye­wande's un­apolo­getic prose and her abil­ity to use wry hu­mour to ad­dress so­cio-po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

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