When a book is described as The Girl on the Train meets Notes on a Scandal, you know you just have to find out for yourself if it lives up to such high accolade, and, after reading it, I believe that The Woman Next Door is certainly as thrilling as both of these wonderfully written books.
With four parts to the story, each chapter veers between two women, Hester and Melissa. Both are neighbours who were at one time it seems friends. However, for reasons only known to the other, their friendship fizzled out and has been reduced from coffee fuelled gossip to mere strained exchanges over the neighbourhood boundaries. Hester believes it is due to a meagre recycling bin issue, whilst Melissa found Hester slightly suffocating and condescending. Either way, the atmosphere has become decidedly chilly between them and Hester has found it difficult to let it go, especially as she once considered herself part of Melissa’s family. But Melissa’s life has since expanded way beyond her control with her husband Mark becoming an overnight TV sensation and they have been catapulted into a spotlight which Melissa has worked hard to ensure she becomes no part of. Fame may have brought them riches, which she has poured into her beloved home, but the trappings of exposure are a constant source of worry for Melissa and has caused a rift in her marriage, forcing Mark to seek solace in the arms of another woman. In short, Melissa has enough problems of her own to contend with and hasn’t once paid any thoughts to Hester’s feelings of dejectedness. That is until an incident most unthinkable happens and both Melissa and Hester find themselves thrown into the role of accomplices rather than mere next door neighbours.
Hester quickly becomes deluded to the point of seeing this incident as a means of winning her way back into Melissa’s affections, however Melissa becomes trapped and suffocates under Hester’s re-appearance in her life, especially now that they harbour a secret. Little does Melissa understand that Hester is only willing to keep their secret on the basis that their friendship returns. Yet, Melissa cannot bring herself to hide her disdain at having to cater to Hester once again and her constant rejection creates a dangerous loathing in Hester for what she sees as a betrayal of her offer of friendship. Hester believes it’s about time she made Melissa sit up and finally take notice of the woman next door.
I can’t reveal the actual incident, as to do so would be to give away a huge amount of the plot, but it is completely unexpected and comes as quite a shock. The aftermath though is so well paced that you actually find yourself feeling more disturbed the further on you read! Both women are portrayed so realistically and the flip from one to the other is cleverly done to emphasise the huge differentiation of each woman’s reality of the situation they face together. But what is so intriguing about the two is how, although they are both visually a complete contrast, one seemingly having it all whilst the other considered plain weird, emotionally they are both more alike than they care to admit, carrying around secrets which they believe they have buried but which have in fact haunted them for so much of their life.
This is a really gripping book with lots of suspense and a number of reveals. But be warned; you may never look the same way at your next door neighbour ever again!
The Woman Next Door is out now to buy in both paperback and Kindle format.