In an affluent neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa, two strong-willed, successful women live next door to each other. Widows and in their 80s, the two come from completely different backgrounds and are sworn enemies, with each trying to make life a little difficult for the other.
But fate brings them together one day—albeit unwillingly—and has both living under the same roof.
The premise of Yewande Omotoso’s novel is simple. But the author has effectively managed to bring to focus how the repercussions of apartheid were widespread and deeply felt by families across the continent for years even after the White minority rule came to an end. The impacts of racial discrimination—mainly based on skin color and facial features that existed from 1948 till the early-1990s—in modern life is what Omotoso explores through her two main characters.
Marion Agostino is a white native of Cape Town. Once the primary architect in her own firm she had to stop working when she had children and now her children mostly ignore her. Hortensia James is a famous black textile designer whose husband, Peter, is on his deathbed, and they have no children. After her husband’s death she finds out he has a daughter from another woman. Hortensia has been Marion’s neighbor for the past 20 years, living in the very house that Marion meticulously designed and wanted to possess herself.
The chapters alternate between Marion and Hortensia and we get to know their backstories and slowly understand how they became the women they are now—bitter and loveless. But there are many more layers to these women and that’s what keeps the story interesting. Also, it’s not that the women chose to go on a journey of discovery and self-healing but circumstances are such that it’s what they both eventually end up doing.
Omotoso was born in Barbados and grew up in Nigeria before moving to South Africa with her family in 1992. Her first novel ‘Bom Boy’, published in 2011, got critical praise and many literary awards. In ‘The Woman Next Door’ Omotoso shows how prejudice can fuel hatred among people as well as the ramifications it leaves in its wake. But the witty story is more than just a tale of black versus white for it stunningly depicts the wisdom that comes with age and thus has an underlying charm that you just can’t resist.