In brief: Relationships with neighbours can be good or bad. But in Frankie and Gwen’s case, it’s very, very bad.
The good: The insight into each of the character’s personal lives and how this impacted on their neighbour war was thought provoking.
The not-so-good: Gwen and Frankie were not likeable characters.
Why I chose it: Thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy – I always enjoyed Meredith Jaffe’s work on The Hoopla.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Setting: Suburban Sydney, Australia
My rating: 7 out of 10
I’ve had some interesting neighbours in my time – from my awesome nanna (who never cared how loud the music was) to the man who went ballistic because I apparently looked at his letterbox. I think most people could share a story or two about great and great big disaster neighbours. That’s why I was intrigued by the premise of The Fence – how do relative strangers become so passionate and territorial when it comes to a perceived material threat?
The story opens with Gwen, a semi-retired woman who has lived in her house since the suburb was brand new. She knows the neighbours intimately – after all, her kids and their kids have grown up together. When her next door neighbour dies, she naturally feels a great sense of loss. But when her neighbour’s son decides to sell the house next door, Gwen can’t understand why he’s throwing away so many memories. It was at this point I started to get a bit annoyed with Gwen’s character. Yes, she’s grieving and of course she would want a neighbour that’s familiar and ‘safe’ but she fails to realise that a) life goes on outside her street and b) what’s precious to her may not be to others. So before the house next door has even been sold, she’s got a grudge.
But when Frankie, Brandon and their four children move in Gwen has more than met her match. Frankie’s move to the suburbs wasn’t a simple yearning for quiet, it’s a desperate attempt to remove her husband from temptation. Besides four young children, a lazy/seedy husband and a job that is more and more demanding, Frankie is insecure. She wants the best and there is no way she’s going to turn out like her mother. So she takes full charge of the house the way she would a boardroom, with sweeping changes and little care for human nature. By erecting a fence between her property and Gwen’s, she hopes to corral her husband and set some boundaries. While I like a strong female character, Frankie overstepped the mark and was incredible insensitive and overbearing. It made me wonder how she reacts at work when she overreacts to Gwen and her husband speaking to her children.
Each woman simply presumes that the other party is living a trouble free life without a care in the world. Gwen’s husband Eric is acting rather strangely, so the loss of the trees she first planted when she arrived in her house hits her harder. Frankie’s grip on her job is slipping away so she creates a crime out of a simple accident. Both women are hurting and take out their pain on each other. The male characters are much weaker, and can’t or won’t take action to support their spouses. While Eric was quite lovable, Brandon was a downright sleaze. He’s lazy and deceptive, hanging on Frankie’s coattails. I feel that he secretly enjoyed fuelling Frankie’s fire towards the neighbours.
It’s obvious now that the characters of The Fence had a strong impact on me. Meredith Jaffe’s writing is strong, getting to the heart of the matter. Gwen’s gardening column is also a sly, clever reflection on what’s been happening in her war with Frankie over the month. The content will incite you to reflect on your relationships with your neighbours and the characters will divide you. It’s an intriguing story.