The Woman Next Door

By Megan Thomas

Shortlisted for the 2018 Dublin Literary Award and longlisted for the 2017 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This was an absolutely fantastic read. There’s plenty to be said for books about friendship and lovable characters, but there is really something so delicious about a book which centres around loathing and pretty awful people.

Neighbours Hortensia and Marion have spent the latter part of their lives in their lavishly leafy homes in Constantia, Cape Town, hating one another. There’s Marion, born and raised in Cape Town during the height of Apartheid, having benefited from her white skin every step of the way, with a lot to say about the land reclamation claims being filed in her predominantly white suburb – which she has lined up for the agenda of the next Committee Meeting. And then there’s Hortensia, who was born and raised in Barbados, moved to Brighton on a scholarship but feeling prejudice for her blackness almost as soon as she arrives in the UK, then on to Nigeria for her husband’s business, and finally to South Africa in 1994 in the wake of Apartheid.

Now, in modern-day South Africa, these two women find themselves thrust into an unlikely friendship – or perhaps symbiosis is at first a better word for the relationship that forms between them. Neither’s life has been easy, blame-free or without strife, however differently that has manifested. But both have plenty to learn from one another. This is not a history book, but the tendrils of history weave their way through it like the bougainvillea which hugs the houses on the fictional Katterijn Avenue.

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