Neighbours: a word loaded with connotations. The biblical instruction of “love thy neighbour”, Verwoerd’s “policy of good neighbourliness”, Robert Frost’s “good fences make good neighbours”, and the usual neighbourly mistrust, animosity, even prejudice come to mind. Yewande Omotoso quotes Simone Weil for her epigraph: “The wall is the thing which separates them, but it is also their means of communication.”
The Woman Next Door tells the story of two cantankerous old ladies – one white, one black – who are neighbours in a fictitious wealthy estate in Constantia, Cape Town: “It was known that the two women shared hedge and hatred and they pruned both with a vim that belied their ages.”
Seemingly, however, Hortensia James and Marion Agostino have a lot in common. Both are in their eighties, widowed, with highly successful careers behind them. Yet their lives have left them bitter and lonely. Interestingly, what separates them most clearly, skin colour and money, transpires to be quite superficial, as both of them are masters of pretence. What really divides them is something which stands between all of us when we encounter another human being of whatever background: the fear of reaching out and making oneself vulnerable enough to connect intimately…
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Great review; I really enjoyed this book. I particularly liked the aspect you articulate so well; that the issues of racism, colonialism and land ownership are never laboured. I also found it amazing that a novel that deals with human interaction had me turning the pages eagerly as if it were a crime novel. The only slightly off note (perhaps) was the extreme distance between Marion and her daughter and how overt that was. Would a daughter really be quite as harsh as that or would she at least not try and hide it better.
Sadly, I know that such relationships between parents and children do exist, open hostility and humiliation.
It did cross my mind that it could just be that I have never witnessed it