Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Published by Chatto And Windus on the 5th May 2016.
Longlisted for the 2017 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction

One of my WorldReads from South Africa.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from
Buy the hardback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hortensia and Marion are next door neighbours in a charming, bougainvillea-laden Cape Town suburb. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers behind them. Both have recently been widowed. Both are in their eighties. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility pruned with zeal.
But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. Could long-held mutual loathing transform into friendship?
Love thy neighbour? Easier said than done.

The bright, bold cover art of The Woman Next Door leapt out at me from all my potential NetGalley reads, enticing me to discover more about the story inside. Set in Cape Town, South Africa, the novel charts the bitter relationship between two neighbours who are both now in their eighties and have happily hated each other for years. Hortensia James was an accomplished textile designer, now retired, whose husband is terminally ill. She is also the only black homeowner in an affluent and otherwise white estate community. Marion Agostino was an accomplished architect, now retired and widowed, who is chair of the estate committee. She also designed the house in which Hortensia lives.

We first see Hortensia and Marion together bickering as they always do at one of their regular and tedious committee meetings. I liked that both women are rude, completely set in their ways and convinced of their own opinions regardless of what goes on around them. It was refreshing to read about elderly ladies who aren't typical cosy grandmother types or lost to dementia. Both Hortensia and Marion are essentially strong career women and experienced battleaxes! As we learn more of their histories, shared and otherwise, we begin to understand their animosity and bitterness as well as how they are viewed with a certain amusement by others in the community. By revealing their secrets, Omotoso is able to discuss elements of South Africa's history and I now understand a lot more about how the country tried to heal itself in the years following the collapse of apartheid. The Woman Next Door is a novel about race, but it is also about generational differences and the difficulties of trying to remain independent when your body has other ideas. Given the breadth of issues, I did think that this was perhaps too brief a story and could have been deeper and more expansive. The lighter touch throughout makes for an entertaining read, but I would have liked more background and to have learned more about characters other than our two leading ladies.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Yewande Omotoso / Contemporary fiction / Books from South Africa


  1. I love reading about old people. They're unintentionally funny sometimes. Case in point, Ove from A Man Called Ove. :D

    1. George's Grand Tour is good too :-)

  2. Generally this sounds like a fun and really nice read set in a unique kind of country. I haven't read too many books set there. But it's a shame that this one is so light and never really digs beneath the surface.

    1. I wondered if Omotoso had tried to address too many themes to give each its due attention? It is great that the novel is on the Bailey longlist though because it is a conversation starter and now many more people will discover it.