The Woman Next Door
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.