2017’s The Mother’s Promise was my first Sally Hepworth novel. I suspect I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy her books – thinking they were too entrenched in motherhood and meaning (as a non-mother) I wouldn’t relate to them. Or – worse still – they’d remind me of opportunities lost and things I DID NOT HAVE.
I was surprised then, to enjoy the book as much as I did and happily launched into Hepworth’s latest – which includes a smidge of suspense – The Family Next Door.
The Family Next Door
by Sally Hepworth
Published by Pan Macmillan AU
on March 1st 2018
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1760552178, 9781760552176
The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It's the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.
Isabelle Heatherington doesn't fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.
But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange's compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won't let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park - and returned home without her.
As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread - and they'll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.
Hepworth puts us in the heads of all of the female leads of this book, as well as an unnamed woman… one who’s lost her child. She cleverly reveals little about this character and we’re left guessing as to their identity.
Central to the plot however is Essie who we know struggled after her first child and spent some time in a mental health facility. Her husband Ben and mother Barbara were nervous about the idea of a second child but Essie was determined to do things differently this time around.
Then there’s Angela, a well-coiffed mother of two older boys, though with a possibly unfaithful husband; and Fran, a matter-of-fact lawyer, who is hiding a very big secret from her husband.
Finally we meet Isabelle who moves into the suburban street full of families, and sets tongues wagging. She’s an unlikely interloper. Childless but seemingly keen to become friends with her neighbours – particularly Essie.
There’s a slight sense of discomfort rather than menace as we ponder the identity of the woman who’s lost her baby and hints of a theme of child abduction / disappearance with mention of a local case.
Hepworth generates a good balance throughout this book – keeping readers nervous about what might happen, and (at the same time) similarly wondering what’s happened in the past. There’s a sense of sadness in that…. to think one of our main characters might have done something unthinkable.
This book is obviously about motherhood – and its ups and downs – but also about friendships and relationships. We’re privy to challenges Essie, Fran and Ange are facing in their marriages. They’re all very different and (I’m sure, to partnered people / mothers) very relatable.
It’s also a reminder that things look very different from the outside…. I marked this quote in particular – an observation by one of the characters, which I think goes for the lives of others as well as ourselves.
Things were far better watched from a distance, Ange thought as she drifted off. When you watched too closely, you saw things you didn’t want to see. p 47
This is another great release from Hepworth whose books offer an entertaining touch of reality with a few life lessons to ponder – for good measure.
The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.