Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 2, 2018

The Woman Next Door (2016), by Yewande Omotoso

I read this on the train to Ballarat today.  We went up to see the Von Guerard Exhibition at the Ballarat Art Gallery (see my post about The Artist as Traveller, by Dr Ruth Pullin who curated the exhibition).  It was a marvellous exhibition – great to see the paintings alongside the sketches they were based on – and the gallery has plenty of other very fine paintings to enjoy as well.  But you’ll need to be quick, the exhibition finishes on May 27th.

The train journey was very congenial.  Two advantages: a very nice meal at Craig’s Hotel and no worries about having a glass of wine, and plenty of reading time in the Quiet Carriage, to enjoy a book.  I think I heard about The Woman Next Door from the Johannesburg Review of Books but it was also longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize in 2017.  I liked it.  No bells and whistles, but a jolly good story.

Hortensia and Marion are next-door neighbours in a posh suburb of Cape Town, and they hate each other.  Marion will never forgive Hortensia for buying the house that was the very first one she ever designed.  (Marion is a successful architect).  Having designed it, Marion wanted to buy it as soon as it came back on the market but fate conspired against her and now Hortensia has it.  Hortensia, a successful designer, is fed up with being patronised because she is the first black woman on the estate, and she despises the petty community committee that creates mountains out of molehills because the women have nothing else to do with their time.  These two women are both in their eighties, they are both embittered old widows and they are both adept at being mean and nasty to everyone they come in contact with.

Two complications arise.  There are two claims from the Land Committee against the Estate (a process for Black Africans to get redress for dispossessions) and Hortense’s plans for renovating her house collapse in a pile of rubble when a crane slips and (a) breaks her leg and (b) damages Marion’s house so badly that she has to live temporarily in a guest house. Hortense is such a cranky disagreeable old woman that visiting nurses can’t put up with her, so she wangles Marion into staying with her so that the doctor will let her stay at home.

So there they are, forced into close combat.  It’s funny, and poignant, and insightful, because – without being heavy-handed about it – the author includes characters and situations that depict Marion’s racism along with Hortense’s insensitivity towards black people less successful than herself.

And I finished it just as the train rolled into Southern Cross station!

PS Yewande Omotoso was born in Barbados, educated in Nigeria and currently lives in South Africa where she has her own architectural practice.

Author: Yewande Omotoso
Title: The Woman Next Door
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK, 2016
ISBN: 9781784701376
Personal library, purchased from Fishpond

Available from Fishpond: The Woman Next Door



  1. Sometimes a jolly good story hits the spot and this one sounds very appealing.


    • Yes. I’m currently reading Thiongo’s Petals of Blood and it’s a fantastic book, but it was nice to have something lighter that I could romp through and still have something to think about afterwards.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know about the book, but you’ve intrigued me about the exhibition. I love Von Guerard’s paintings. Hope I can make it before it closes.


    • Oh Carol, it really is very good. There are four large rooms full of paintings and the sketchbooks are a delight. Some of them are really small and yet his work is incredibly detailed. One of the best exhibitions I’ve ever been to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will have to make a point of going soon. The NGV at Fed Square has a show about colonial landscape artists so that will be a must too. I love these early paintings and Fauchery’s photographs from the 1850s always intrigue me too. You can learn so much about history from them that you don’t quite get from words.


        • Yes, I must get in to that one as well…


  3. As you say this is a good yarn with some strong characters. I loved reading the scenes at the neighbourhood commitee.


  4. I’ve been to the Ballarat gallery, an impressive building and an interesting collection as I remember. I envy you the train journey, I generally get roped into driving. Thanks too for the author bio, I get a better feel for the book if I know where the author is coming from.


    • We don’t take the train often enough probably because it used to be so slow and awful. But these new trains, built in Victoria too, are smooth and comfortable and although not as quick as the intercity trains in the UK and Europe, are as quick as a car journey, and for us coming from across town, without the hassle of city traffic. And we love Ballarat:)


  5. A South African version of Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp? 😁

    I love reading on the train… not sure why it’s train-specific. After I had my kids and was considering returning to work, my husband asked what part of work I wanted to get back to (because returning hadn’t been the original plan). After some thought I said “Reading on the train and eating lunch in peace.” Well, I never got to do much more reading on the train but after that I coached my kids to let me have 10 minutes at lunchtime in quiet. I would often hear them say “Shhh. Mum’s finishing her chapter.” 😬


    • LOL I toyed with working as an education bureaucrat for a while… they rang me up and asked me to apply for a job and the idea of reading on the train each day really appealed to me. Trouble was, the bureaucracy at close quarters didn’t… so that was the end of that.


  6. Fascinating review. Yewande is a force to reckon with. I have been meaning to read her Bom Boy and now this. :-)

    Petals of Blood is somewhere in my boxes of books. It belonged to my uncle’s library and I borrowed it so many years ago when I had to study it as part of the books required in the English class at the University. :-) And to b frank, I can’t even remember the details. :-)


    • Hello Celestine, lovely to hear from you:) I hope sales of your poetry book are going well!
      You are just the person for me to ask about Petals of Blood. Famous book. Potential Nobel Prize. Admired around the world. But, in chapter 7, which I have just read, Abdulla tells about his time with the great hero Nding’uri when they ‘had done it to the same girl’. If you still have access to the book, can you read that bit (1/2 page, in Part 4 in my Penguin edition) and tell me what you think about that scene when you read it as an adult woman in the 21st century?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa, I don’t need to go and read this part at all. From this quote, my anger is rising. I don’t even know if I can find the book. It’s hidden somewhere in boxes during the relocation to our new home. But back to the issue. Growing up in the eighties in a neighbourhood where the boys had fun with the girls at random, I always felt a bit isolated from all that because my mother was strict. I knew of boys who trooped to have sex with the same girl, mostly at the girl’s consent. At least, the one I know did not raise any issue. Most probably she trusted the ring leader who was her regular boyfriend. Then, we did not know anything about rape, gang rape or even if we did, it was just in passing. I was never a victim and this sort of thing was never discussed openly though we knew it was going on among the youth in the area.

        Today, we know it as rape, Lisa and we know the trauma associated with it. Believe you me even with so much education on the issue, some communities still feel they have to keep quiet on rape issues and rather treat the matter at home rather than go to the police. As an adult, I condemn it in no uncertain terms Lisa. Boys or men doing it to the same girl is abhorrent and should not be condoned in any society. Like they say, ignorance is no excuse and certainly this misguided show of masculinity and superiority over the female should not be condoned. In Ghana, rape/defilement is punishable and there are quite a number of intervention agencies that deal with this offense, like the DOVVSU, Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit of the Police Service. The task is not easy like I said cos of the penchant to settle out of court, but the authorities are doing their best to bring such culprits to book.

        Wow! I have really talked. :-)


        • Celestine, I really would like to thank you for sharing this with us… my instincts are to call it rape too, especially since the girl asks the second one to let her rest first and he won’t. So then I ask myself why did he choose to include this incident in this way, and in a book where he’s not afraid to pass judgement on other matters, will he pass judgement on this incident? Well, I haven’t finished yet, and he may come back to it so I’ll reserve my opinions for later, but right now I don’t like his misogyny at all..(which is not what I expected).


  7. […] to settle out of court, but the authorities are doing their best to bring such culprits to book.  (See the comments at the bottom of my review of The Woman Next Door). In my reply to Celestine I said that I was asking myself why the author chose to include this […]


  8. […] The Woman Next Door, by Yewande Omotoso #BookReview South Africa […]


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