Fiction: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Chatto & Windus €15.99
Hortensia James lives in the small enclave of Katterijn in Cape Town, where the expensive properties were kept by Europeans as their African summer houses. In The Woman Next Door we first meet the 85-year Nigerian, recollecting her arrival there in 1994, with her white husband. She quickly sensed the ugliness beneath the cultivated beauty of the place.
Marion Agostino, chairs the monthly community meetings. Her favourite target for snippy comments is Hortensia. But Hortensia only goes to the meetings to be amused at the 'old rich white women' with nothing important to do. The narrative voice has a clipped rhythm, and carries you swiftly through Hortensia's encounters with the deeply condescending Marion, the type of white woman bred as a bitch.
Described as 'two women who shared hedge and hatred and pruned both with a vim that belied their ages,' a ripple changes everything between them when Marion reads aloud a letter about a claim on their territory and a special request from a former resident.
The two widowed women are forced to lay down their arms to deal with shared loss. How this truce impacts on the winter of their lives is animated through lively conversation and exchange of memories.
Yewande Omotoso grew up in Nigeria and her first novel Bom Boy won critical praise and literary awards. With The Woman Next Door Omotoso has penned a finely observed account of female prejudice, redemption and that often elusive commodity - friendship.
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