Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. And each has something that the woman next door deeply desires.
Sworn enemies, the two share a hedge and a deliberate hostility, which they maintain with a zeal that belies their age. But, one day, an unexpected event forces Hortensia and Marion together. As the physical barriers between them collapse, their bickering gradually softens into conversation and, gradually, the two discover common ground. But are these sparks of connection enough to ignite a friendship, or is it too late to expect these women to change?
I enjoyed reading this book so much! I had started reading Omotosho’s ‘Bom Boy’ a couple of years ago and I couldn’t get through it, regardless of how determined I was to like it. I think our response to books is a very interesting; how much of it depends on where we are in life, how we’re feeling, what we need, the kind of reader we are etc. I’ll give Bom Boy another go and let you know how that goes.
The woman next door is the story of Hortensia and Marion, two older women, neighbors who absolutely cannot stand each other. It starts off seeming like an annoyingly petty dislike of each other, which is often chuckle-inducing and then the author slowly uncovers the layers in the lives of these women and the events that have shaped their thinking and dislike for each other. What really nudges the book toward a crescendo is an accident that brings both women under the same roof for an extended period. They are forced to actually talk to each other, listen to each other, see each other. Hortensia’s remarkable ability to hold on to so many grudges in that little body of hers never failed to amuse me.
One of my favorite things about this book is just how it’s written. Omotosho creates a sweeping narrative of the lives of both women and glides through time in a manner that reads almost effortlessly. It feels likes like you’re reliving their lives and coming to an understanding of their present and it isn’t dizzying, as it is with some other books. Instead it is intentional without seeming forced and reader feels carried along. The women in this story are so resilient and I really admire the complexity of their characters, how they refuse to fit in any boxes I tried to create in my head, just like humans are wont to do. I enjoyed that there’s softly surprising information every few chapters because life surprises aren’t always jaw dropping.
The only thing I’d say I did not enjoy about this book was all the attention to landscape and architectural descriptions, but I understand that the author is an architect so it makes sense. I just started skipping those after a while, because I really don’t care all that much for them.
‘Not so, Marion. We are not on the same side. You should know this by now. Whatever you say, I disagree with. However you feel, I feel the opposite. At no point in anything are you and I on the same side. I don’t side with hypocrites’
When you’re Hortensia James and you have pride but no walk to saunter it with- well life is difficult.
Her children had been raised never to talk about the obvious, never to mention the thing in the room that gave off a stench. Marion had taught them either to move or bear it, but never to let on. Pointing things out was too unpleasant.
The nice thing about being old is that you can literally moderate your hearing, and these days there was little worth listening to.
Resentment was different from anger. Anger was like a dragon, burning other things. Resentment burned a hole in your stomach, burned your insides.
They ate and Hortensia thought about how intimate eating with someone was. How you might not ever really know a person until you took soup with them, listened to them slurp or not try not to slurp, listened to them swallow.
You can’t die, but you haven’t got the money to live properly, the money to act as a balm to your misery. What was the point of it all. You needed money – life was much too glaring without the shades of lots of cash.
Girls don’t run, she said. Girls never run. There were many versions of the same admonition. Girls don’t chew gum. Girls don’t whistle. What did girls do? Marion once asked her mother. The question stumped her mother for a few second. She was shelling peas, she was showing Marion how to shell peas. Girls crossed their legs when they sat. What else? Marion had asked. Again a long silence. Girls shelled peas.
Hating after all was a drier form of drowning.
Marion liked the sound of her own voice. She was relieved it sounded stronger than she felt. She was relieved at being able to give orders. Bring command to chaos.
It saddened her that what she considered the best thing about her herself was a puzzle to her husband.
He spoke as if his words were precious and he knew the person he was talking to couldn’t afford them. His facial expressions bore signs of forbearance – the quiet long suffering of those who tend to others.
The trouble with shame, Marion thought to herself is that it breeds unproductivity. It is such a crippling thing, and even at a young age Marion knew this.
This is a really good book! Worth every second of your time.
Rating: 4/5 stars.