Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Sally Hepworth is an author I have grown to love. We have featured all her novels here at Beauty and Lace, book clubbing more than not. I always get excited knowing that there’s a new novel coming because Hepworth tackles the tricky topics with insight and sensitivity. The Family Next Door is another story tackling heavy subject matter but I think there was a larger element of mystery here, I was certainly left guessing.
The Family Next Door is set in a suburban Melbourne street, a family oriented area that is quiet and peaceful. The story is told by a cast of female characters living on the street, a street where everyone knows each other but no-one is really a friend. They wave and check in politely, look out for gardens when people are away but there are no real friendships; no support network.
Isabelle moves into the street and sets tongues wagging because a single woman is a rare occurrence in their street, and though she’s friendly she seems to know a lot more than she should.
Essie, Fran and Ange all seem to have enviable lives. They have great husbands, all with very different skill sets and winning husbandly traits. They have children and are trying to get by the best way they can. It isn’t until we get to know their behind-closed-doors lives that we realise how deceiving looks can really be.
The story is told in alternating (not evenly) chapters focused on Essie, Fran, Ange, Isabelle and Essie’s mum Barbara. This is when we start to learn about all the things going on in these women’s lives, that their neighbours are unaware of.
Isabelle has a reason for moving to Pleasant Court and we discover early that she’s looking for someone; as the story unfolded I came up with theory after theory about who she was looking for and why, and I was wrong every time.
The secrets lurking in the Pleasant Court houses left me wondering how this would all come together and I really had no idea. Nothing that I imagined was even close and that was a great thing. Hepworth wove an intriguing and heartbreaking story from the lives on Pleasant Court and by the close of the story she had outed the secrets and the recovery phase was well underway.
The Family Next Door asks us how well we really know our neighbours, and if we could change things by reaching out and really checking in. We all have things going on in our lives but if we opened ourselves to helping those close to us would we all reap the benefits.
Essie, Fran and Ange live in close proximity and see each other regularly but they don’t really catch up and it seems, as we get to know them, that they don’t really have anyone they can properly catch up and offload to which leaves them feeling pretty isolated with their secrets and struggling with how to work through them. This sense of isolation can exacerbate small issues and make them much larger, I know this from personal experience, so imagine how much more difficult that makes dealing with large issues.
Sally Hepworth tackles all the big ones in marriage in The Family Next Door from financial issues to trust, fidelity, depression, post-natal depression, guilt, postpartum psychosis and commitment phobia. Two of these marriages look really amazing from the outside and even Essie and Ben have an enviable relationship, though the others know about that scary time that Essie left her baby in the park and returned home.
I love the intricate way that Hepworth has woven all of the strands of this story together, bringing us to a heart-warming conclusion after some pretty serious heartbreak. The loose ends are tied up and everyone gets a resolution to their issues, even if it’s not always the way we wanted it to turn out.
The characters are real and relatable, I’m sure most of us will empathise with at least one of them even if they didn’t always behave in a way we would expect. A gripping spotlight on the issues that many of us face, and often can’t bring ourselves to talk about. A book I would wholeheartedly recommend.
Thank you Sally Hepworth and Pan Macmillan for an emotionally engaging, sensitive and insightful look at love, life and neighbourhoods.
The Family Next Door is book #9 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.