That Woman Next Door / The Woman Next Door

I listened to That Woman Next Door by Harper Bliss (2021) and The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (2017) consecutively and was amused by the similarity in the titles. Although both stories involve two women who live next door to each other, they couldn’t be more different.

That Woman Next Door is a slow-burn lesbian romance between opposites with Marie, a glamorous neurosurgeon in her 50s who goes to the Brittany countryside for some soul searching after an accident in the operating room, and Olivia, a socially-awkward and curmudgeonly translator who happily lives alone in Brittany with her two cats. The Woman Next Door tells the stories of Hortensia, a Caribbean-via London and Nigeria black woman living in Cape Town who was a textile designer, and her next door neighbor, Marian, a white woman of Jewish descent who was one of the first female architects in South Africa before having four children. Both are in their eighties, and as the story proceeds, both are widows, and they serve on the council board together, with Marian as the President and Hortensia finding every opportunity she can to annoy her.

I had no idea that Harper Bliss has written dozens of lesbian romances and has a weekly podcast–Harper Bliss and her Mrs.–that I will give a listen. I enjoyed the romance; it was steamy; and I liked the happily ever after. But it was definitely a slow-burn. I like decisiveness, and Olivia’s careful and self-protective nature annoyed me quite a bit. But I loved the setting and thought Marie was quite the character.

As far as Hortensia and Marian, we find out that there is much more to each of them than expected. Hortensia still grieves because she was never able to have children, and has suffered for years because of her husband’s affair that they ignored when it was over, without ever breaking their silence. Marian hated motherhood and regrets ever giving up her architecture practice.

When Marian realizes that her husband has left her penniless, and Hortensia realizes that her husband has in his will asked her to do something that she cannot bear to do, the women very slowly begin to confide in each other. Hortensia asks Marian to move in when she needs another adult there because she’s broken her leg, and Marian is thrilled to be back in the first house she ever built and has wanted to have ever since. Marian does some soul-searching about her participation in Apartheid, and while nothing can change the past, she can change the future, however long they have to live it. I loved it, thought it was very well-written, and enjoyed the different accents that Adjoa Andoh (the actress who plays Lady Danbury on Bridgerton) brought to the story.

Neither included any anti-fat bias that I can recall, so I would consider both solidly weight-neutral.

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