I’m a nosy person, one of my favourite occupations is imagine the lives of the people that live in the houses I pass on my way home. In a different age I suspect I would have been very much like my grandmother watching the comings and goings in the street. So it is unsurprising that I was drawn to this novel set in Melbourne following the lives of the people living on a cul-de-sac, Pleasant Court.
The neighbourhood includes a mother who left her daughter in a park, but three years on, Essie now has her mother Barbara close at hand as she has moved into a house on Pleasant Close too. The two women meet up regularly and Barbara is besotted with her grand-daughters. But Essie longs for a close friend, the neighbours wave and smile but they are not the type to pop in and out of each other’s houses. Then Isabelle rents the house which has been empty following a fire. Where she came from and what she does, and even her sexuality is a bit of a mystery.
In another house Angie’s real-estate business is going well, her two sons are enamoured with their X-Box and her husband is a photographer. He is gorgeous and handy in the home and yes, sometimes he is too interested in everyone else but Angie knows she is lucky. Fran is less obviously happy obsessively pounding the streets following the birth of her second daughter. What is she running from?
It is very hot, the neighbours are struggling to keep cool and Isabelle’s interest in the neighbours and their children is a bit intense.
Sally Hepworth has created a book that suits nosy people down to the ground. All of the characters are shockingly realistic with the dialogue pitch-perfect. There is a real knack to dovetailing interactions between the characters and their private thoughts and this author knows just how to make it work without resorting to the obvious sarcastic tone that many authors use to get around that gap between the public and private personas.
If the characterisation is spot-on the plot also swings gracefully over the bar. I thought I knew which direction the book was going in, I was resoundingly wrong and although the author did lead us down a path, the realisation wasn’t born from a left-field twist, the author went for a far subtler, and as a result, far more realistic swivel.
There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered which changes everything on Pleasant Close over the course of a summer and the resultant scenarios are on the whole things that you will have seen and no doubt had long intense conversations about. Despite the key storyline being unusual ultimately this book is about a variety of relationships which acknowledges that each one is different and often they can be complicated and of course that sometimes there are no easy answers. Whilst this book isn’t ‘heavy’ it does more than wrapping everything up in a pretty bow.
The overall result was a satisfying one. I felt for the characters when various secrets were revealed which meant that I had to seriously blink back those tears having stupidly decided that this would be a nice gentle book to read on a train. Sorry to the bemused man who sat opposite me!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder & Stoughton who allowed me to read The Family Next Door ahead of publication in the UK today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them, and the author Sally Hepworth for a thoroughly absorbing read.