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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Family Next Door: A Novel

I requested a copy of Sally Hepworth's The Family Next Door because I was intrigued by the premise of a series of lies all coming together to a blow up finale. Call me a Liane Moriarity junkie, and I will agree. (Don't fret everyone, for reference, this book was compared to her work in the promo.)

Pleasant Court in Melbourne is a sleepy street where not much happens except the occasional child injury. Except what happens behind closed doors is always more salacious than anyone will let on. Fran and her husband have dealt with their fair share of ups and downs in the recent births of their two children. Ange spends an ungodly amount of time trying to portray the perfect life on social media with her husband and two boys. Essie and her family are trying to forget about her episode of post-partum depression after her first child and secretly guarding against it happening with their second. Thank goodness her mother lives just next door. When Isabelle moves in to a rental on the street, her urban glamour intrigues everyone, not the least of which features Essie. As the heat builds, both literally and figuratively, everyone's lives will come to a head as secrets come to light and families are changed.

This review takes two positions: the first is that the book itself is a little outlandish, and the second is that it was a fun read. I was reminded repeatedly of Big Little Lies, which, as I mentioned earlier in the post, shouldn't surprise anyone since the promotion for this book compared this book to her work. I'll start with the first statement so we can hurry up and get to why this book was a fun read.

I was into this book for a good long while, because Hepworth does a great job of creating interesting characters. Ange was insufferable in that way that you enjoy reading her and hating her all at the same time. We all know people like this in our lives, women who go out of their way to portray a perfect life on social media when you know your kid blows out his diaper just like mine. It's completely insufferable, and you can easily spot an Ange a mile away. Like, really, we aren't stupid. I dropped most of these people on social media during the Great Unfriending of 2016, but I still have a couple on my feed. I really felt for Fran and the difficulties in her marriage, as that was so easy to relate to. Essie fascinated me, and I wanted to get to the bottom of her issues. Isabelle was intriguing. So it's fair to say I was captivated by the characters, and their husbands too.

The story just went a little off the rails when we get to the crux of why Isabelle moved to Pleasant Court. It absolutely was not what I was expecting, I'll give the author that. It was a surprise, because it looks like Hepworth is leaning left and then she spins right. I liked that. However, once the motives are revealed, the story took a turn for the unrealistic in an eye-rolling way. I don't want to give anything away, because I think the book is definitely worth a read for the fun of it, but it's fair to say that the explosiveness of the revelation was downplayed by the melodramatic plot bits.

Back to the good parts of this book. I mentioned the characters earlier, and I think that the strong and intriguing character development is Hepworth's strength. I also loved the suspense that Hepworth was able to bring to the story, as it kept me intrigued enough to grab my Kindle and read that instead of the hard copy books I keep at my bedside. (I use my Kindle for commuting and don't often read it at home, so it's a testament to the intrigue that I wanted to read this book instead of one just an arm's reach away.) The intrigue is what kept me coming back and pushed me through to the end, and that's why I would recommend this book. It was exactly what I needed in the middle of an edit for my (very emotionally heavy) dissertation -- a bit of intrigue, a dash of character love, and a whole lot of page turning. 

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