Book Club: The Fence

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Author: Meredith Jaffé
ISBN: 978-1-74354-015-2
RRP: $32.99

The Fence is a suburban drama blown out of all proportion, it takes an up close and personal look at neighbourly disputes and at times I thought it got a little over the top but I have never really had any trouble with neighbours.

It took me a little while to get involved in the story, but I think that’s my issue at the moment, because it’s not the first time recently. Once I started to get involved in the story it really did start to grow on me. The characters were, different; they weren’t easy to like but they also weren’t easy to dislike as you got to know them.

Gwen Hill is a long time resident of Green Valley Avenue, she moved in as a newlywed and was one of the first (possibly THE first) couples to move into the newly built street. She became very close to her next-door neighbours, and some of the other couples in the street. They raised their families together and built strong and lasting life-long friendships. Gwen is very green thumbed and loves her garden, her neighbours were not as interested in working outside so Gwen did their landscaping, and a lot of the upkeep.

The death of her best friend and neighbour hits Gwen hard, and when the house is then put on the market it only makes the transition harder. Gwen misses Babs terribly and is struggling with the huge change to her routine and lifestyle, they had been through so much together. It is a huge shock to her system when a four wheel drive pulls in next door and out pile a family of six.

Gwen had seemed to be quite a neighbourly older lady but I soon started to lose sympathy for her. On first hearing that the house was going on the market she got quite narky, and though it seemed a little over the top you could understand it because she had been hoping that the house would stay in the family; unlikely as that may have been.

The minute the four-wheel drive pulls in next door we start to see a judgemental side of Gwen that is less than desirable, and it only gets worse from there.

The new neighbours are Francesca and Brandon and their four young children, all under 4. They seem like a perfect little family, until we start to get to know them a little better and find out what brought them to Green Valley Avenue.

Gwen takes great pride in her garden, and the one in the neighbouring house which was also a labour of her love, so finding out that the new neighbours plan to completely re-do it breaks her heart.

Green Valley Avenue is quite an open cul-de-sac, with no fences out the front. There is a decorative divider of crab apple trees and hedges between Gwen and the neighbours, it has been lovingly tended through the years to create the perfect shape.

Francesca and Brandon want to fence their front yard, pulling down the crab apples, to keep their children safe. This marks the beginning of a dispute that quickly escalates beyond all belief.

the-fence

The further I got into this story, and the more outrageous I felt this dispute got, the more I got to know the characters. I started to wonder how much of this dispute actually had anything to do with the fence, or the neighbours, and how much had to do with the characters own circumstances.

I really enjoyed this book once I got involved, and I was so entranced by the goings on that I had to find out what would be next. By the second half of the book there seemed to be lots of paranoia going on, and it was totally misplaced.

There was much more to the story than what was on the surface, you really needed to pay attention on all levels because some of the twists were a little unexpected.

The Fence is the story of two families facing uncertain futures and major upheavals; both of them finding themselves in completely unfamiliar situations and struggling a little with how to adapt to their new realities.

The female leads were quite sympathetic characters, when you got to know them. There were times I found them selfish and judgemental but as I delved into their lives and gained a better understanding of them I realised how they may have come to the reactions they ended up with.

I loved the ending, it showed that the journey through adversity and out the other side often sees you a stronger person, sometimes part of a stronger couple, and having learned lessons you otherwise would have missed.

Interesting, amusing and a little over the top The Fence is neighbourhood drama like you will hope you never face, I certainly hope never to face it. Fences do tend to account for the vast majority of neighbourhood disputes so sit back, have a giggle and hope your fencing dramas never reach these proportions.

The Fence is book #47 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.

Meredith Jaffé can be followed on Facebook, MeredithJaffe.com and Twitter.

The Fence is available now from Pan Macmillan, Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold..

Thanks to Pan Macmillan 10 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading The Fence so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments. I look forward to hearing what they think.

Also, if you want to join the Pan Macmillan Book Club they send a monthly newsletter with their featured book club titles and a chance to win books, as well as links to discussion questions and exclusive content.

12 thoughts on “Book Club: The Fence

  1. The Fence by Meredith Jaffe explores the complexities that emerge when neighbours disagree on fencing issues. Because it is not just the fence, that is just the catalyst – things go deeper than that.
    When Gwen Hill has new people move into the house next door, the last 50 years of her life at Green Valley Avenue is jarred to a new angle: these neighbours want to put up a fence. This has never been needed before, as all the children growing up in the street would wander from house to house, sharing each other’s yards, and indeed each family’s lives. But now those children have all grown up and left home, and Green Valley Avenue has many older residents who look upon each other as lifetime friends.
    Many years ago, Gwen had planted the shrubs and crab apple trees that act as a natural division between her house and the neighbouring one – she doesn’t want a fence. The new neighbours explain that their 4 young children and 2 dogs need to be contained safely in their own yard, so a fence is necessary to ensure this happens. And both will not see the other’s viewpoint on the issue.
    Things get worse. The council makes demands which neither side is happy with, and mediation is also unsatisfactory. The Fence becomes a bigger problem than just dividing the two properties, as it begins to erode the fabric of “getting along with the neighbours”
    The story weaves the lives of the two warring families into a mix of emotions, as we learn that the anger about the fence shields many deeper fears and anxieties for each family. Behind closed doors, their lives are very different from what the neighbours see..
    The Fence is an easy to read book, with the story flowing well. The pressure that each family faced was threaded into the storyline as the characters grow. This is clearly not a thriller , or a who done it, but a gentle disclosure of what can sometimes be on the other side of the fence. Sometimes a “No, I don’t want that done”, really means I don’t want any change in my life. But to live is to face constant change, and I believe that is what The Fence is saying.
    Thank you again Beauty and Lace, and Pan Macmillian Australia, for the chance to read this book. I really enjoyed it.

  2. Thankyou so much Beautyandlace and PanMacmillan for giving me the opportunity to read and review ‘The Fence’ by Meredith Jaffe.
    Gwen Hill or Gwennie as her husband Eric, (always making dolls houses in his workshop) calls her, is very upset as her neighbour Babs has died. They had been friends and neighbours for over four decades.
    Enjoying living in the same neighbourhood and bringing up their families together, Gwen feels a great loss. Bab’s house is sold much to Gwen’s distress and she has resigned to the fact that no new occupiers are going to be good enough. Frankie and Brandon move in with their four children and two dogs, a lifestyle change to strengthen their marriage. Frankie is the breadwinner having employment as part of a senior management team while Brandon looks after the children and housework. Crab Apple trees
    Separate Gwen and Eric’s property from their new neighbours.
    Frankie wants the trees removed and a fence constructed to keep her children and dogs safely in their yard and also for privacy as Gwen has a tendency to be nosey! The fence is duly built, but not without problems along the way.
    I thought this was a great book, thought that Gwen was a little oldfashioned and living in the past and neither party were understanding of the other. Everything that went wrong Frankie blamed on the Hills.
    I really enjoyed reading the gardening clips from the articles Gwen wrote for over 40years for a publication called ‘Outback and Outdoors’.
    ‘The Fence’ was both humorous and touching. It was an excellent read, very entertaining and difficult to put down.

  3. The Fence is written by Meredith Jaffe, and I was lucky to be a part of the Beauty and Lace book club to be able to read and review this book. It has quite an interesting idea – the issue of putting up a fence between neighbouring houses – and surely had me questioning what would I do in the situation (and may have had flashbacks to those A Current Affair segments about fence quarrels!!)

    The story introduces Gwen, who lives next door to her best friend but who unfortunately passes away quite suddenly. Gwen’s quiet, comfortable world is turned upside down when her friends house is sold. Meeting her new neighbours – Brandon stay at home dad, Frankie the business woman, and their 4 kids (Amber, Silver, Marigold and Bijoux – had to look that one up on how to pronounce!) and 2 dogs (Peanut and Butter!!) – let’s just say it wasn’t a good first impression, and you can sort of get a feel for what type of family this is based on that very first exchange of words.
    The story follows the two families – Gwen’s who are just trying to adjust to new neighbours in their comfortable neighbourhood, and Frankie’s who are establishing how they want to raise and grow their family. That’s when the “war” with fencing becomes quite a large issue and arguments, hearings and more arguments ensue.

    I quite enjoyed the overall story, the issue can be very relatable and the writing was really well done. All the characters had some depth to them as well, which made the story branch out and explore differing situations. The story is told by months – one chapter is from Gwen’s point of view for that month, and the next chapter is from Frankie’s that month. I think that was a little different, going month by month, but it worked quite well you got depth and insight into characters lives rather than just a one sided opinion from the main character. It also features a little gardening extract that Gwen writes for a magazine which had some interesting tips.

    Throughout the story you might start to choose a side for yourself, I think I kept going back and forwards in my opinion as it progressed and you revealed more and more about each character, but when I was reading it through I probably sided with Gwen the most, probably because Frankie just had that sort of air about her – some parts I just read and thought gee I really dislike her, but then there is more to her story which made me soften to her in parts.

    Overall the book was quite riveting, and had a premise that can be quite relatable and the telling of the characters stories were really well put together. Definitely recommending this book and will be on the lookout for more by Meredith Jaffe. Thanks Beauty and Lace for the great read.

  4. Well Meredith Jaffe author of The Fence you are brilliant, I absolutely loved this book
    Neighbours well what can I say most of us have them some are good others are not, and fences are what neighbours have the most problems with
    This book is so well written I could not put it down
    New neighbours move in next door and poor old Gwen and Eric have to adjust to the new residents
    I loved the character Gwen she is like everyone’s nan / aunty
    I did not take to Francesca at all too self centred and her husband Brandon I thought was quite a weak man
    BUT
    As characters in this book they were great
    Thank you for selecting me to read The Fence I throughly enjoyed this book

  5. I have just finished reading “The Fence”, by Meridith Jaffe. I enjoyed the book very much. Jaffe very cleverly drew the 2 main characters to represent the past, community way of life, contrasted against the more isolated way of life today. Gwen and Francesca came across as very real characters. When Gwen’s faily were young, children roamed the neighbourhood, and neighbours freely visited each other without invitation.
    Their husbands, although in the background, were integral to the story. On the surface the story is about the building of a fence between properties, but it is more about relationships and understanding of difference. Although at the end it seems to infer that we are all basically the same.
    The style reminded me of “Truly Madly Guilty” Liane Morriarty’s latest novel.

  6. The characters in Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel The Fence may live in the pleasant-sounding, Green Valley, but the neighbourhood is far from idyllic. It’s actually the setting for two feuding next door neighbours. At times some parts of this story would not be out of place on A Current Affair or Today Tonight with the title, “Shocking neighbours.” This novel ultimately shares a few things in common with Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap in that it is a well-written family drama set in suburban Australia.

    Jaffé is a writer and former book critic for The Hoopla. When you consider these experiences and her writing in The Fence, it is obvious that Jaffé knows how to tell a good story. This novel starts off a little slowly and it does contain some unlikeable characters but it does hit its stride as the tension mounts between the two households.

    Gwen Hill is an elderly lady who has lived in the same street in Green Valley for decades. She and her husband were the first residents in this cul-de-sac and it is here that she raised her children and made a life for her family. Hill also created an immaculate garden that she is immensely proud of and she also forged a close relationship with her next door neighbour, Babs.

    Michael is Babs’s son and after both of his parents pass away he and his wife decide to sell the family home. Gwen is shocked and she takes an immediate disliking to her new, young neighbours. At first it is hard to warm to Gwen and her stubborn and opinionated ways.

    The neighbours are the Boyd-Desmarchelliers family. Francesca Desmarchelliers is the mother of four rowdy young children and the family bread-winner in a highflying, corporate role. Her husband, Brandon Boyd stays at home and looks after the children and the house. It is immediately obvious that Gwen and Francesca are quite different in terms of their opinions but they also share a determined doggedness. When Desmarchelliers decides to build a large fence for privacy and to keep her children and the family pets safe, this sets off a series of chain reactions that soon escalate out of control.

    The story is told in the third person but the focus shifts between Gwen and Francesca’s perspectives in monthly increments. As a result of this the reader becomes absorbed in this tale of two women and will often find themselves choosing an allegiance with one of these neighbours. For some it will be a case of oscillating between both sides while others may be left sitting on the fence.

    Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel is a clever and witty one where she captures what could have been quite a dark and territorial part of Australian society but injects this with a lightness and humour. The story seems quite simple but it’s actually quite a complex social comedy and layered family drama. This is one very promising debut that shows that even the simple idea of a home among the gum trees with a husband, kids and a white picket fence can actually be more than what it seems.

  7. Thank you for the chance to read The Fence by Meredith Jaffe.
    This started, for me, as a light read about a fence dispute and it turns into something much more complex.
    Gwen and her husband Eric have lived in their quiet street with the same neighbours for over forty years. Their children all interacted easily – there was a sameness to their lives. Then their neighbor Babs passes away and the house is sold. Gwen doesn’t seem to handle the change well as the new neighbours want a fence built.
    Frankie, Brandon, their children and dogs move in with their hectic lives. Frankie is the bread winner with Brandon staying home to look after their children. Frankie likes order and wants to make that a bit easier with a fence.
    This immediately puts the neighbours at war and escalates from there. It doesn’t just affect the neighbours relationship, but also in the individual households. This ends up in a situation no-one could predict and ultimately changes many of the people involved.
    It shows there is not always a clear answer and compromise is the goal.

  8. The Fence by Meredith Jaffe was a terrific read. At the start as it takes a little while to work out who the characters are however, once that was covered I was hooked. The story revolves around an elderly couple (Gwen and Eric) and the new neighbours, a large family of 6 (Francesca, Brandon, Amber, Silver, Marigold and Bijoux). Gwen and Eric have lived in Green Valley Avenue for most of their lives and have made lifelong friends. When their next door neighbour (also Gwen’s best friend) passes away Gwen is heartbroken. Sadly the house is quickly sold on and the new neighbours move in before Gwen really even has time to grieve.
    Gwen and Francesca (Frankie) quickly come to loggerheads simply because so much is assumed and just not said on both their behalves. It was so interesting reading the two sides and seeing how something so simple can be taken completely out of context when you assume something or don’t speak up. I felt for both women who were both dealing with such emotional issues and had they just talked they could have helped each other out so much. I loved the little gardening snippets you got from Gwen’s monthly magazine articles (they are actually quite useful!) and the tongue in cheek way they were written.
    Although at times the story got a little far-fetched I found this to be a wonderful book that was amusing, entertaining and just thoroughly enjoyable! Will be sourcing Meredith Jaffe out in future. Thank you for putting me on to this book and author!

  9. When I first started reading The Fence I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get into it as it just wasn’t clicking with me. The first chapter seemed to introduce a lot of characters and relationships which was a little overwhelming. After I had read a couple of chapters I did get into the book and it started to flow quite easily.

    The book focuses on the two main characters – Frankie and Gwen, and each of their families. I like the way the book was set up with the chapters in pairs and every pair separated by a gardening article. There was two chapters per month of the story– one from each character. This allows us to see some situation from both perspectives and to also get some further insight on each character’s life.

    Gwen is a retired old lady who has lived in the same house for over 50 years. She is a likable character, and her husband Eric is a prominent part of the story. Their neighbours are Frankie and her family. Frankie is career driven and is not a particularly likable character but by the end I found myself warming to her. Her husband Brandon features heavily in the book but I am not a fan of him, and they have a bunch of young children.

    As the title may suggest the book revolves around a fence, but the fence is not just that – it is a scapegoat for all the problems in their lives and only later when the characters are less absorbed in the physical fence does this dawn on them. We see watch a lot of drama unfold throughout the time period covered in the book and there are a lot of over reactions mainly from Frankie. By the end of the book some of their differences have resolved and while it is no happily ever after it kind of feels satisfying that they have come to this point.

    Overall I did enjoy this book and thought it was an entertaining read!

  10. This book. surprised me! I thought It would be something I might like , but I thoroughly enjoyed it! It took a little while to get into it, but then I was hooked. The characters were so real and so relatable, like I was living in the same neighbourhood.
    All about Gwen and Frankie and their trials and tribulations around a fence……and so much more!

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