Why we love it: The Woman Next Door is a delightful new novel about friendship, marriage, identity and growing old, from one of Australia’s most beloved writers.
Emerald Street, Fremantle, has for long been a place where a lovely and loving set of neighbours have been popping in and out of each other’s houses for cups of tea, glasses of wine, and a gossip.
All that’s about to change when rock-solid couple, Joyce and Mac, decide to spend some time apart. Joyce has been a devoted wife and mother and now in her 60s, she’s looking for a little more than marriage and motherhood. She and Mac decide to spend one year apart – she’ll stay in the house, study or volunteer while he wants to retreat to their beach place.
But their decision upsets former neighbours and good friends Helen and Dennis who have moved across town to a posh new apartment, with views of the river. Helen is outraged at her good friend Joyce’s decision, made without consulting her. But there’s more to Helen’s outrage than meets the eye; she’s irritated by her own husband Dennis, she’s finding the flash new apartment soulless, and she misses hanging out on the back verandahs with her old friends. Now she’s filling in the time buying expensive handbags online and drinking white wine at eleven in the morning – and suffering terrible headaches.
Meanwhile all is not well with Joyce’s other neighbours – Stella is an 80-something actress called back to the long running television show that made her a household name, but she’s losing her mind – soon she’ll have to give up her independence and figure out how to spend her declining years. Next door to Stella is her great friend screenwriter Polly, who’s just embarked on a long distance relationship with a Londoner. He finds her suburban life and friends too stifling though and the neighbours wonder if this rather arrogant man is all that he seems.
With The Woman Next Door, Liz Byrski creates some wonderfully recognisable and sympathetic characters, drawn with depth and intelligence. Each of the many strands of their lives contain deeply moving stories that are seemingly about ordinary lives but touch on existential crises that we can all relate to –what’s the point of it all, as we get older, when the children have left home or when our brain isn’t functioning as it used to? It’s a story that utterly absorbed us and we were sad to say goodbye to these characters as we headed for the final pages.
Liz Byrski is the writer of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction as well as former journalist and broadcaster. Her bestselling novels include Gang of Four, In the Company of Strangers, Family Secrets, Bad Behaviour and Last Chance Café. Her acclaimed non-fiction and memoir includes Remember Me; Getting On: Some Thoughts on Women and Ageing and In Love and War: Nursing Heroes. She completed her PhD in women’s fiction at Curtin University where she lectures in Professional and Creative Writing. She lives near Fremantle with her dog and enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, writing, movies, walking and swimming.