All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Blog Tour Review: The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

on February 28, 2018

The Family Next Door
Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 328p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

The safest suburbs often hold the deepest secrets. Such is the case for Essie, a mother of two. In a moment of maternal despair she once made a terrible mistake, one she will always regret. Essie has since recovered, but she fears what may still lurk inside her.

Her neighbours in Pleasant Court have their own issues. Driven and organised, Ange appears to have everything under control, except perhaps her husband. Practical, intelligent Fran can’t stop running. For exercise, or something else?

One day in February, during an unprecedented Melbourne heatwave, someone new arrives. Isabelle is single and childless when everyone else is married with kids. She is renting when everyone else owns. Her job is mysteriously vague. Strangest of all, Isabelle is very curious about her neighbours. Too curious, some might say. 

It soon becomes clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighbourhood was no accident. And her presence might bring even more secrets to light…

This book was incredible. I thought I’d cut it a bit fine when I only picked it up on Monday to read it, but turns out I had nothing to worry about. I started it at 10am and when I finished, I realised it was 11.30. I’d powered through it in 90 minutes – it’s this incredibly, intensely readable story that sucks you in right from the beginning.

The Family Next Door is set in the Bayside area of Melbourne, around Brighton and Sandringham. It’s a quiet street with homes that have appreciated nicely in value. It’s populated mostly by younger families and a couple of retired residents. Essie is a young mother of two girls and the opening of the book is Essie struggling to cope after the birth of her first child, who isn’t much of a sleeper. Everyone else seems to be able to get babies to sleep but Essie is really struggling with Mia and overwhelmed by some of her feelings. Sleep deprived, her terrible mistake is an act of desperation and a cry for help.

Fast forward a few years and Essie is now a mother of two, that one mistake from years ago hanging over her head as her new daughter Polly enters a sleep regression stage. When Isabelle moves into the street her presence is a form of fresh air for Essie, even a chance to escape the existence of rocking a child to sleep and praying they stay asleep. Isabelle is attractive and also delightfully unencumbered – apparently single, childless, glamorous. Essie is soon abandoning her boring responsibilities to get to know Isabelle better and it becomes almost a bit of an obsession. Meanwhile other women of the street Ange and Fran have their own secrets. What is Ange’s ridiculously good looking husband hiding? And why does Fran feel the need to run herself ragged (literally) day after day?

This book was so addictive. Essie, Ange and Fran are all actually relatable women. Both Essie and Fran have toddlers around 3 and new babies. Ange has older boys both well at school and is balancing her busy real estate career with her family life. Her husband is a photographer, almost so good looking it hurts and Ange is constantly feeling like she has to not only ‘keep up’ looks wise but also keep tabs on him because he has a habit of disappearing. And Fran has her own marriage woes and a guilt churning in her that only seems to go away when she runs. The three women are acquaintances more than friends before Isabelle moves in, but the arrival of a stranger and the eventual uncovering of why Isabelle is there seems to band them all closer together.

There are a few clues littered throughout of Isabelle’s reasoning behind moving into Pleasant Court, scattered through the narrative in italics but I have to admit, my thoughts went along a slightly different direction so there were enough clever twists to keep me guessing. I didn’t really take to the character of Isabelle so much in the beginning but her driving dedication became something to admire the further I got into the story and the deeper her pain seemed to become. The way that Essie latches onto her is truly concerning, especially to Essie’s mother, who watches her like a hawk for the same struggles that she experienced with Mia. Essie’s husband works long hours and although he seems concerned about her as well, the bulk of picking up the slack with childcare etc, definitely falls to Essie’s mother, who even moved in next door to help.

Not only is this book quite a mystery (why is Isabelle there, who is she really searching for, how did it happen, etc), Sally Hepworth uses this frame to also explore motherhood in its different stages and the attempt at balance or at least looking like you have the balance. Ange posts a glamorous life on instagram with relevant hashtags but at home, she’s constantly watching, knowing something deep inside and wondering what to do about it. Should she put up with it, for the sake of her life? For what she has built? I actually found Ange’s story really interesting because quite often those scenarios seem so black and white but Sally Hepworth does a great job making the shades of grey appear. I felt as though Ange evolved a lot as a character as she began to realise what she really wanted. I also appreciated the similarities in Ange and Fran’s situations, even though they played out in very different ways. It’s also interesting that the novel’s tagline is…. do you ever really know your neighbours? When I was a child, we knew all our neighbours. We weren’t the street party type, but we knew each other, interacted. Now? I know my next door neighbours and that’s it. No one else. I wouldn’t know anything about them. In fact, I don’t even know what they look like. It definitely seems like in a lot of places, many neighbourhoods have evolved to be this way. Renting is more common as house prices rise and people move in and out. Sometimes it just takes something extra to make that connection and although all these women knew each other, it’s Isabelle’s arrival that is the catalyst for an elevated level of interaction.

This was probably one of my most anticipated releases for 2018 and it definitely delivered. Sally Hepworth weaves such an intriguing tale with believable characters with these little flaws, hurts in a suburbia that’s familiar but could also be anywhere. There’s a bit of good-natured fun poked at Melbourne culture and even if you’re not from Melbourne, you’ll be able to relate in ways that make your own place that little bit different from others. Sally Hepworth is quickly carving a very good niche for herself as a master of these family mysteries and it’s not hard to see this as a smart miniseries either. Each of the women are given clear identities and personalities with their own stories, but those stories are also woven together really well. This is a brilliant book – I’m a fast reader but it’s rare even for me that I read a book in 90 minutes! Definitely highly recommend this one.


Book #39 of 2018


9 responses to “Blog Tour Review: The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

    • I know, it was ridiculous haha. I started at 10am and thought, I’ll stop at 12 because I have something to do. I looked up after the last page and it was only 11.30. Couldn’t believe it!

      • I am so envious. I could decimate that TBR of mine so much faster if I could manage this, even for say, half of the books! There are so many books I want to read, that I just can’t wait to get to but they keep on piling up at the same time!

        • Honestly, I can tell you that my TBR pile is probably just as out of control as yours is! Being able to get through a few quicker than others doesn’t seem to stop the incredible amount of books I want to read from growing in ridiculous fashion. I have TBR bookcases.

          • I like the idea I just read in your latest post about mixing it up with review titles as well as my own. My sense of obligation often overrides my impulse and then I end up never getting to some of the books I really want to read. I’m going to be firm with myself and start doing that.
            I was only just thinking that a nice floor to ceiling shelving inserted into the corner of my bedroom would do nicely for my TBR piles. At present, books don’t make it to the living room shelves until they’ve been read. This re-organisation has seen me lose A LOT of space in my bedroom, but at least I can keep track a bit better.

            • I had to start mixing things up a bit because I felt like all review books was kind of taking away my freedom of choice. Although most were books I’d accepted, they nearly all have to be read around a certain time and it felt like I had no real scope to just pick up a random book because I had all the review deadlines to meet. So I pared those back a bit and mixed in a bit more of my own books – books already on my shelves, impulse buys and new releases I didn’t get for review. It’s definitely made me feel a bit more enthusiastic about keeping up the pace. I feel as though I need a new organising system though. There’s mostly chaos reigning here.

              • I’m finding different piles is helping. Not the most sophisticated system, but it’s working so far. The amount of piles keeps increasing, but I’ll deal with that in another way when I have to.

  1. REALLY glad you liked it so much. I read all 3 of her earlier books in the 2nd half of last year. And I gave every one a 3.75/4. I can’t wait to read this one. Your review just made me that much more anxious.

  2. […] my review for Sally’s The Family Next Door is here, The Things We Keep here and The Secrets Of […]

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