Sally Hepworth’s The Things We Keep was my book of the year for 2016. I also enjoyed her next book The Mother’s Promise so I was excited when she released another book. When I started The Family Next Door I found it a bit, well, suburban – the desire to have a daughter when you only have sons, the envious feelings when someone has active parents assisting with their children – all real, but not as gritty as the others. This may well have been deliberate, lulling me into a sense of all is well in Pleasant Court – ‘Close -knit. Pleasant. People talking to one another, keeping an eye on everyone else’s business … a hard place, you’d imagine, to keep a secret’.
Told from the perspective of the women living on Pleasant Court, in the third person, there is also a thread from a first-person viewpoint, but we don’t know who it is, which kept me guessing.
Relationship with parents, partners and children are all shown with insight and perception. Motherhood particularly is examined well from its many angles and with its different facets.
The observation that on ‘TV there were always two parties— the villains and the victims—but real life was more complicated than that’ is well demonstrated, and Hepworth shows these characters to be real and multi-layered, with both flaws and virtues. The snowball effect of dishonesty, or hiding the truth, plays out for many of them keeping something from others. What people choose to share with their families and friends can be selective and alter not only the way they are seen and treated, but can also have lifelong ramifications.
For these neighbours, who knew each other, but not as well as they thought they did, it seemed impossible ‘that they had all been going through their own private torture while living right next door to each other’. Hepworth has delivered another great novel, this one dealing with the frailties of the middle class, and how they deal with them.