Let’s state at the outset that I’m not really big on anything that even slightly resembles chick lit. I’m just not. To me, it’s like the small talk you make at a party-inane, possibly amusing, but at the end of the day, possibly fattening and distracting. But hey-I read cheesy fantasy novels for my escape, so who am I to judge, right? 😀
Penguin Canada sent me a copy of Elizabeth Noble’s newest book, “The Girl Next Door” a little while ago, and I shut down the cranky judgy part of my mind, and just read. In taking a look at the press release, she’s also written something called “Things I Want My Daughters To Know”, which are letters from a mother dying of terminal cancer to her daughters. Reviews for that called it “an unashamed tear jerker”. So I was ready to be manipulated to emotion at the drop of a hat.
I was ready, and possibly even willing.
I would like to say I enjoyed this book. I can possibly say I didn’t mind this book. But half way through, I literally put it down and said “this is one of the worst books I’ve ever read.” Granted, it did try and redeem itself at the end, but honestly, it wasn’t enough.
The Girl Next Door is an interconnected story of apartments in a New York building, and the people who live in them. It’s also a story full of stereotype and people who never feel fleshed out. The main thread of the book revolves around Eve, who has moved from the U.K. with her husband after he’s transferred. She’s lonely and out of place, and it’s the big chewy metaphor for everyone else in the book-feeling out of place, out of time, awkward.
Eve meets an old expat, Violet, in the building, who was a war bride in a stagnant marriage, and who suffers tragedy in her second coupling. The building also contains Trip, a spoiled son of well to do parents, Emily, the beautiful go getter, Madison, the scared, hard slut, Rachel and David, the wonder couple who have their relationship crushed by infidelity. And Charlotte. The lonely librarian, living in her old little world of romance novels.
Everything else aside, what really bothered me for the first half of the book was that characters were fleshed out not by writing, but by things-the fifties style apron Charlotte is wearing, the brand of dress Rachel might be wearing. We’re meant to infer who these people are by the stuff in their hands, and frankly, it seemed stilted and lazy. I was happy to watch this type of writing wear off by the end of the book, leaving the author to actually try and inhabit the character instead of just describe them. Many of the examples were also very dated and contrived, leaving me feeling like I was talking to my father as a teenager, with him trying to be “hip”. It was really quite awkward.
There was also the inclusion of the building weirdo, who you only saw in pieces, and then two pages when he dies about how he was at Dachau. It made no sense, and felt like more had been cut to tie it in. I understand it’s there to make one realize that you don’t always know why people are they way they are, but it felt pap, and rather last minute. It actually threw me off the main story lines for a bit, waiting to see if it popped in somewhere else.
If anything, The Girl Next Door is guilty of cramming too many people in one book. The actual relationships-those were compelling-Trip pursuing Emily, and his change of person, however unbelievable I found it. Rachel and David, being the lovely, golden couple who lose it all, Eve and Ed, and how their life is rocked by change, and the loss of their daughter. Violet, and her memories.
Because the book drew me from place to place, I was unable to feel for any of the characters, unable to really cry or smile because it was patently obvious that these were only copies of people you would meet. When Eve and Ed are saying goodbye to their daughter, born too soon, I felt nothing, not a thing. It was too contrived, too unreal. It struck me that a good writer will make me feel it, will pull that sadness from my chest.
I felt nothing like that.