One of the main characters in this novel is an architect in South Africa. Is it sheer coincidence that the writer of this novel, Yewande Omotoso, is an architect herself?At times writers tell the world that the content of their work is pure fiction, but is this always the case? Why choose a profession with which you are completely unfamiliar?
There are two main characters in this novel, two women who live next door to each other. They live in a small neighbourhood where people know one another. One of them is Hortensia, who runs her business ‘House of Braithwaite’. She hails from Barbodos and her family moved to London (United Kingdom). Here she meets Peter James, who gets a job at Unilever at Ibadan. The couple moves to this university town in Nigeria. After the retirement of Peter the couple decides to move to South Africa, where they settle in a small enclave in Constantia, a small suburb of Cape Town. In 1994 they move into this house on this former wine estate. The couple lives in house number 10. They were married for 60 years when Peter passed away.
House number 10 was designed by architect Marion Agostino (with a Jewish Lithuanian background) who was married to the Italian Max Agostino. You see, this small suburb in Constantia is a small cosmopolitan world. Ever since Marion imagined and drew number 10 and saw this house being built she had a strong longing to live in this house. But due to financial constrains she was never able to put her wish into fulfillment. Everyday she saw this house that was near and still so very far away and beyond her means. She lives at number 12.
“The woman next door” is Hortensia and it is Marion and the novel details the way these two women interact and their standing in the small community of Constantia. This female relationship in the balance is complicated by a wish by people whose ancestors lived here and were buried here, especially the backyard of Hortensia is a focus of attention. When Peter James dies Hortensia is informed there is a daughter sired by Peter. He had his infidelities when he lived in Ibadan. This daughter lives in the United Kingdom. It was the wish of Peter that Hortensia and his daughter would meet.
This novel is an intricate story of two elderly ladies, both with a troubled past. In due time they close the gap between them (to a certain extent), but there is also an inner distance. Yewanda Omotoso did a good job in writing this novel.
Yewande Omotoso – The woman next door – Chatto & Windus 2016