I have been looking forward to reading The Woman Next Door ever since I heard there would be a new Liz Byrski out mid-year. Liz Byrski does not disappoint.
First, there is the setting – the very charming town of Fremantle with its beautiful old buildings and sleek modern structures, it’s coffee shops and book shops and the Arts Centre, the harbour and park foreshores. Even if you’ve never been to Fremantle, Liz Byrski conveys the atmosphere of this warm and charming place which is an essential backdrop to this story of neighbours.
This is a story about neighbours, an idyllic story of neighbours becoming close and loving friends. Like most idylls, it can’t last as time moves on. The children grow and move, with two of the four houses becoming empty nests. Polly and the oldest neighbour, Stella, both work in various aspects of the entertainment industry. Polly and Stella have often left their houses empty because of the demands of their work. Stella is coming out of retirement as an actress again. Polly is off to Edinburgh for a conference.
As the empty-nesters, Helen and Dennis have left Emerald Street for a shiny new apartment. Joyce and Mac decide to have a year apart doing their own thing.
How the four households accommodate changing circumstances and the passage of time makes for engrossing reading. Each character is a complex character with strong individual personalities. Each has a set of challenges, both physical and emotional.
Stella and Polly, who have had successful careers, face a loneliness at this point of their lives. Polly wrestles with herself about taking another chance at love at this later stage of her life.
This is a book about the realities of ageing. It is about taking the opportunities when they open up, as Joyce does. It’s about the small niggles in a relationship that can be allowed to become insurmountable or faced up to. It’s about the end of life, in this case through the despair of dementia or a sudden illness that takes loved ones when there is still so much life to live. It’s about facing up to increasing insignificance in retirement. Some find purposeful work, as Dennis does with the Men’s Shed, or as Leo fails to do.
The role of friendship is always an important aspect of Liz Byrski’s books. In The Woman Next Door we see friendship tried and tested in different ways. Joyce and Helen face an old friendship struggling to survive changed circumstances, Polly becoming responsible and learning a new way of friendship for the failing Stella, Mac and Dennis coping with changes without the diversion of work, and Leo, totally incapable of understanding what friendship means.
The story has some surprises for the reader.
Liz Byrski writes beautifully, giving us a story to enjoy and reflect on. While life ends and changes in some area, life is renewed and refreshed in the best possible ways.
The Woman Next Door, by Liz Byrski, is available from Dymocks