Pleasant Court is in one of the safest suburbs in Melbourne. Home to married couples and children, nothing very exciting tends to happen. Not where everybody can see anyway.
Essie Walker, a mother of two with a history of postnatal depression, lives on Pleasant Court. After a distressing event where Essie, struggling with her firstborn's erratic sleeping habits, abandons the newborn in a park, her mother moves in next door. Essie's mother, Barbara, is the only single person on the street but is well-liked by the other families. She's trustworthy and fantastic with her grandchildren. Then one day a new arrival draws the attention of the Pleasant Court mothers.
Isabelle is a single woman from Sydney. Rumours begin to fly when aspects of Isabelle's life become apparent to the other residents. A single woman with no kids moving into Pleasant Court? What's even more concerning is Isabelle's curiosity about her new neighbours. Why is she interested in them, and why is she so interested in their children? Essie asks these questions and one more — why does she feel such an inexplicable pull to this mysterious young woman?
I hadn't heard of this new novel prior to purchase. In fact, I was intending to buy The Woman in the Window when a bookstore worker said I needed to be reading Sally Hepworth's new novel. She reeled me in with a few details and promised me that it was an excellent read. I'm kind of ashamed to admit that I was initially disappointed to see that the book was set in Australia. Not many Australian books have really impressed me. Besides, why would I want to read about Australia when I live there? (Stupid, I know)
Now, after reading Hepworth's new book I can't say that I dislike Australian novels, because this one is fantastic.
The Family Next Door is an interesting novel. It's classed as "women's fiction", but I would call it "domestic drama". It's fast-paced but not a thriller. You won't open the book and be met with murders or kidnapping. Instead, Hepworth drew me in with a dramatic birth, a moment of motherly doubt, and the promise of great female characters.
"The whole thing felt like something terrible instead of something wonderful"
- Sally Hepworth, The Family Next Door
That final sentence in the introduction tells us everything we need to know about The Family Next Door. Nothing's ever really as wonderful as it seems.
The book introduces us to a few different women. Essie, the mother with a history of postnatal depression; Ange, the #perfect Instagram mum, business owner and mother of two boys; Fran, a mum of two with an apparent exercise addiction; Barbara, Essie's single mum; and Isabelle, Pleasant Court's new arrival. Each chapter focuses on a different woman; their lives, lies, personal problems, and relationship with each other. We quickly see that they each have worries that others don't realise, some worse than others.
Almost immediately, I was drawn to each character and their individual storylines. They are all undoubtedly individual, which is a great change of pace for female representation in books. Unfortunately, at the beginning of a few chapters, I had to double-check whose point of view I was reading from as there were so many but it was easy to get up to speed. My only other complaint was some structuring issues that I felt needed to be tightened up toward the end. Fortunately, Hepworth's overall skilful storytelling makes up for any of the problems that bothered me in the moment.
Naturally, each woman's plot revolves around families, the main theme of the book. Hepworth writes families very well and I loved her exploration of what really makes a family. Some of the other themes involve trust, truth, and identity. All of which I thought were explored very well. Sometimes the truth is better out in the open, but other times it just isn't that simple.
"That was the thing with lies - they grew like weeds until, eventually, they strangled you."
- Sally Hepworth, The Family Next Door
From the beginning, I had a few ideas on where the book was heading, but not many of my guesses were correct. The Family Next Door left me wondering until the final chapter and my questions kept the pages turning. I almost couldn't put the book down, which hasn't happened in a long time! By the end, I felt like I knew the intricacies of the families on Pleasant Court as well as if I had sat down for a cup of coffee with them all.
Why Read This Book?
- Tight plotting
- Well-written women
- Female author
- Australian Author
If you're looking for a book with interesting women, a bit of mystery, and some family drama this one's for you. I'll be putting it on my re-read shelf!