Lizzy Chandler's Reviews > The Woman Next Door

The Woman Next Door by Liz Byrski
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it was amazing
bookshelves: australian-women-writers, contemporary-fiction, aww-challenge

This is the second book by Liz Byrski I've read. The first, In the Company of Strangers, introduced me to two women who share a history as child migrants from the UK who settled in Western Australia. "Friends in Western Australia" may be a niche Byrski has carved for herself, because The Woman Next Door also follows this pattern. This time the focus is on Emerald Street and the neighbours, Joyce, Helen, Polly and Stella, who have been in and out of each other's houses over a lifetime, from raising their children and pursuing their careers, to battling ill health and coming to terms with ageing, death and loss. The losses are many, including strains on marriages and on friendships.

In simple language, in a narrative where not much happens, apart from the ups and downs of daily life as the neighbours make decisions that impact on themselves and their friends, Byrski creates a powerfully emotional story. For me, the emotional core of the story comes from the friendship between two of the single characters, Polly and Stella. Polly is a writer, and her nearest and dearest neighbour is the elderly Stella Lamont, stage name of a soapie star who is showing signs of dementia. Through the course of the novel we see them as mother, sister, daughter, confidante, adviser and carer to each other - so much more than just neighbours. It is a moving portrait of a type of love that the Ancient Greeks called "philia", or deep friendship, and in the end brought me to tears.

As I looked up "philia" to check I was using the term correctly, I realised the novel also paints a portrait of three other types of love, as the Greeks termed them: "pragma" or enduring love, shared by the married couple, Joyce and her husband Mac; "agape", or love of all humanity, which Joyce displays when, after successfully fulfilling the roles of wife and mother, she establishes a late career as a volunteer teacher of English to refugees; and "philautia", or self love, which provides one of the central conflicts of the novel (which I won't elaborate on for fear of spoilers). Each of these portraits is moving in its own way and strikes me as being both psychologically and emotionally "true".

Liz Byrski is the author of eight novels and several nonfiction books. She has a PhD in writing from Curtin University and is Director of the China Australia Writing Centre. It's good to know she has a backlist of books to be explored. The Woman Next Door is highly recommended.

The Woman Next Door by Liz Byrski
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Reading Progress

January 17, 2017 – Started Reading
January 19, 2017 – Shelved
January 19, 2017 – Shelved as: australian-women-writers
January 19, 2017 – Shelved as: contemporary-fiction
January 19, 2017 – Shelved as: aww-challenge
January 20, 2017 – Finished Reading

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