"Love thy neighbour? Easier said than done."

Title: The Woman Next Door

Author: Yewande Omotoso

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Chatto & Windus – Penguin Random House UK

Marion Agostino and Hortensia James are two octogenarians living in the small, beautiful region of Katterijn in Cape Town. The two neighbours, one white and the other black, are sworn enemies who do not conceal their hatred for each other. Besides their mutual hatred, they have other things in common; both have recently been widowed, they both have made impressive careers in their lives and they both have personal, deep-seated bitterness.

An unforeseen event crops up and the women are forced to work together. This first begins with the continued bickering but slowly turns into slightly relaxed debates and they also begin to open up about their pasts and memories. It is possible that this new change in weather could produce a new friendship, or maybe it might be too late.

The story takes on a slow pace at the beginning, we jump from one character to the other and one space and time to another, but without exactly getting to connect with the characters. It takes a bit of a while to get to the juice of the story and get excited and eager to carry on. It’s not a particularly extraordinary story but it can be enjoyable if you give it patience.

However, Omotoso writes with good humour and through the nature of the characters, the grumpiness that we recognise from old people, we get some tickles from the story. Along the way, as slowly as she eases you into it, you get to appreciate the journeys that the two women have travelled and through their recollection of memories as well as the dialogue between them you can’t help but feel for them. As they open up to each other about their marriages, children or none, they also open up to us in an endearing manner and you can’t exactly choose one from the other. Their reconciliation is warm and it’s something the reader would want to happen. The ending may at first seem unexceptional but when I fully digested the story, to me the reconciliation between the black Hortensia and the white Marion represented the reconciliation of race in a country where racial tensions have always been so heavy and haunting. I would recommend the book for people who appreciate a simple story that does not need the burden of using grandiloquent and embellished language.

Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados, grew up in Nigeria and moved to South Africa in 2002. The trained architect had her first novel Bom Boy published in 2011. In 2012 she won the South African Literary Award for the First-Time Published Author and she was shortlisted for the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize. In the following year she became a finalist in the inaugural, Etisalat Fiction Prize. The Woman Next Door is her second novel. 

Published by Nthepa Segage