Author: Liz Byrski
Liz Byrski is a talented West Australian author who I have not read nearly enough of. The standout of The Woman Next Door for me is definitely the characters. Byrski takes a group of ordinary every day neighbours and allows us into their lives, but this group of neighbours are not like the groups of main characters that you will find in most books. The Woman Next Door focuses on a group of aging neighbours who have shared a street for decades.
Many women’s fiction books are about women in their late twenties through to their forties, that I have read, so I found it really refreshing to read The Woman Next Door about a group of neighbours fast approaching the end of their sixties and beyond. Characters who are facing retirement, empty nests, a loss of relevancy in the modern playing field of their career.
The problems and challenges faced by these characters are not the ones I often find in my women’s fiction and I loved it. The fear of growing old alone, the fear of finding love again as you approach 70, the fear of approaching dementia, the fear of being replaced as a sought-after speaker on the academic circuit and the fear of the procession of funerals as you say goodbye to loved ones.
Polly, Joyce, Helen and Stella and their families have been neighbours on Emerald Street for decades and formed a bond that goes beyond friendship. Helen and her husband Dennis moved out of Emerald Street a few years ago to an apartment in Fremantle. they still catch up but things just aren’t the same.
There are big life changes happening for all of the characters and it was refreshing to watch these very different characters come to terms with growing old. Joyce and Mac have been happily married for over 40 years and now they are embarking on a year of living apart. Mac wants to spend time in the house they bought for their retirement and Joyce isn’t ready for that yet, now that her responsibilities to every one else have diminished she can throw herself into something just for her. She’s not sure what yet but living alone and spending time with herself is sure to help her sort it out.
Polly is in Scotland for a speaking engagement when she meets a fellow speaker in a hotel evacuation, they end up exchanging email addresses and embarking on a get to know you in cyberspace conversation.
Meanwhile at home Stella, star of the small screen and stage, is returning from her second retirement for a role reprisal in the reinvention of soap Cross Currents, as a spirit. Now in her eighties, Stella is starting to have issues with her memory and all her friends are growing concerned.
Helen and Dennis are finding that the smaller, modern apartment on the river is not what they were expecting and Helen is not coping with how far from her expectations the move has been.
Byrski’s characters are authentic and relatable as they share their lies with us; their hopes, their fears and their friendships. This book is entertaining and heartbreaking, it could be any one of us and I loved it. The characters, the setting and the beautiful little community these families have built on Emerald Street, and the way the circle of life completes and renews as the story closes.
A must read for everyone. Thanks for a wonderful story Liz Byrski.
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The Woman Next Door is book #34 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.