Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso / History Of The Rain by Niall Williams / That Night In Lagos by Vered Ehsani

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from South Africa.

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I received a copy of The Woman Next Door from its publishers, Chatto And Windus, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. The novel was released a couple of days ago on the 5th May 2016.

The bright, bold cover art of The Woman Next Door leapt out at me from all my potential NetGalley reads, enticing me to discover more about the story inside. Set in Cape Town, South Africa, the novel charts the bitter relationship between two neighbours who are both now in their eighties and have happily hated each other for years. Hortensia James was an accomplished textile designer, now retired, whose husband is terminally ill. She is also the only black homeowner in an affluent and otherwise white estate community. Marion Agostino was an accomplished architect, now retired and widowed, who is chair of the estate committee. She also designed the house in which Hortensia lives.

We first see Hortensia and Marion together bickering as they always do at one of their regular and tedious committee meetings. I liked that both women are rude, completely set in their ways and convinced of their own opinions regardless of what goes on around them. It was refreshing to read about elderly ladies who aren't typical cosy grandmother types or lost to dementia. Both Hortensia and Marion are essentially strong career women and experienced battleaxes! As we learn more of their histories, shared and otherwise, we begin to understand their animosity and bitterness as well as how they are viewed with a certain amusement by others in the community. By revealing their secrets, Omotoso is able to discuss elements of South Africa's history and I now understand a lot more about how the country tried to heal itself in the years following the collapse of apartheid. The Woman Next Door is a novel about race, but it is also about generational differences and the difficulties of trying to remain independent when your body has other ideas. Given the breadth of issues, I did think that this was perhaps too brief a story and could have been deeper and more expansive. The lighter touch throughout makes for an entertaining read, but I would have liked more background and to have learned more about characters other than our two leading ladies.


History of the Rain by Niall Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my Top Ten Books of 2016.

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I have Dave to thank for introducing me to the work of Irish writer Niall Williams. He, Dave, downloaded this novel, History Of The Rain, months ago and has since gone on to read and thoroughly enjoy three or four others. I am just starting to catch up and, as you can probably guess from my five star rating, wish I hadn't left this book so long unread.

History Of The Rain is narrated by teenage Ruth, a bedridden Irish girl afflicted by an unknown ailment that is best described early on as Something Puzzling. Ruth uses random capitalisation throughout the book as a means of emphasis and I loved the device. It is never overdone, but is often very humorous and gently sarcastic. From her attic room under a permanently rainy sky (I read the book over a Bank Holiday weekend and so could strongly empathise with the constant rain!), Ruth casts her mind across the history of her family and the lives of her friends and neighbours. In a change from coming-of-age novels, I think of this as more of a coming-to-be storyline. We read about Ruth' parents' courtship and how their ancestry led them to meet, and about Ruth and her brother's childhood in a family where her mother and grandmother worked constantly to keep a roof over their heads while her poet father strived but failed to make a success of their farm.

Williams has a fantastic ear for natural dialogue. This, together with Ruth's familiar narrative style, made it easy for me to believe in the Irish town he has created and its very real people. His descriptions of the homes, surrounding countryside and lifestyles are sharply observed and, although not everything is pleasant, I think the overall effect gives a fascinating portrait of contemporary Ireland. Historical elements gave the novel a sense of timelessness, but inclusion of present-day disasters such as the banking crisis fallout and badly-thought-out political decisions add a modern edge and I liked the contrasts. History Of The Rain isn't a light, fluffy tale of Ireland where everything comes right over a cup of tea at the end. I found some events quite upsetting, although I was then frequently giggling at one of Ruth's turns of phrase within pages. On finishing the story I felt quite bereft and will definitely be picking up another Niall Williams book soon.


That Night in Lagos by Vered Ehsani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

That Night In Lagos by Vered Ehsani is the prequel to her Society Of Paranormals series. It is numbered 0.5 and takes place before Ghosts Of Tsavo which I read in February. I think the prequel is only available directly from Ehsani via her website.

For those of you already further through the series than I am, the fifth installment, Curse Of The Nandi, will be released on Tuesday (10th of May 2016). Curse Of The Nandi will be at a discounted price and include a related short story, but this offer is only valid for two days so don't miss out!

Back to That Night In Lagos: we meet Miss Beatrice Anderson, aged nineteen, when she has been in the Society of Paranormal's employ for just a year. Her anniversary gift was her wonderfully versatile walking cane which is put repeatedly to good use in turn-of-the-century Nigeria as Miss Bee strives to shatter a smuggling ring and meets her nemesis, Koki, a giant preying mantis. Ehsani has the same great talent for evoking place so Victorian Lagos is just as easy to visualise as Nairobi was in Ghosts Of Tsavo and I loved the wealth of detail, colours and scents, describing Lagos harbour. This story is only about fifty pages long so there isn't the space for as much characterisation and Beatrice drinks far fewer cups of tea, but it's still a fun tale and fills in more background information.


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