In a desperate bid to reduce the books that are collecting dust on my TBR shelves, I have decided to collaborate with another avid reader and fellow book reviewer, Nicole from Certified Book Addicts. The #20BACKLISTIN2020 challenge is a self paced challenge hosted by Jaylamm.Reads, Reading and Sunshine, and Cassidys.Bookshelf. The overall goal of this challenge is to read 20 titles from the backlist books that are currently sitting on your TBR pile. For this challenge I will be reading non review books and taking my selections directly from my chock-a-block TBR bookcases (there are two shelved back to back). I will be publishing my reviews of these books on my blog and social media sites on the first and third Tuesday of the month.
Book #7 in the #20BACKLISTIN2020 challenge
Estimated TBR Shelf Life: 3 years
“I promise you one thing, young lady. Building a fence is not going to keep the world out and won’t keep your children in. Life’s not that simple.”
Gwen Hill adores Green Valley Avenue. Here she has built friendships, raised her children and nurtured a thriving garden. So when the house next door is sold, Gwen wonders how the new family will settle into this cosy community.
Francesca Desmarchelliers has high hopes for the house on Green Valley Avenue. More than a new home, it’s a clean slate for Frankie, who has moved her brood in a bid to save her marriage.
To maintain her privacy and corral her wandering children, Frankie proposes a fence between the properties, destroying Gwen’s picture-perfect front yard.
To Gwen, this is an act of war.
Soon the neighbours are in an escalating battle about more than just council approvals, where boundaries aren’t the only things at stake.
‘Next door is Rohan and Babs’ house, content in its garden of tranquil, clipped green and white gravel paths. The two gardens are separated not only by taste but by Gwen’s pride and joy. Where a fence might have been is a row of crab apples.’
The Fence by Meredith Jaffe is an attentive and discerning novel, that balances hilarious moments with serious themes. Jaffe’s novel takes the reader into the intricacies of a relationship between opposing neighbours. The added strain of personal issues interfering with this toxic relationship adds further fuel to this explosive fiction tale.
Green Valley Avenue is a peaceful environment, where the neighbours all know each other and look out for one another. When they lose a very special member of their community, a new family moves into the vacant property. When Francesca (Frankie) Desmarchelliers purchases a property on Green Valley Avenue, she has no idea that she will be contending with a neighbour from hell. Frankie’s attempts to rescue her failing marriage with a move into this quiet suburb location is soon upturned by a direct request by Frankie’s next door neighbour not to erect a fence between the two properties. This quickly earns Frankie’s immediate ire. Frankie is determined that this fence will be erected to protect her family and pets. Frankie also wants privacy via the fence from her meddling neighbour. But Gwen will not give in to Frankie’s demands, especially if it means losing her precious crab apple trees that she has lovingly tended to for many years. A war breaks out between the two women. From insults, court dates and calls to the police, this is one relationship that cannot be repaired!
Bad neighbours! I’m sure many of us have experienced difficulties with those that reside next to, or near us. I know a two year battle I have had with our neighbours may finally be coming to a close over the next week, much to my relief. These situations can have us on edge, highly stressed and directly impact our wellbeing. The Fence is a solid domestic fiction title that explores a relationship breakdown between two neighbours, who clearly do not see eye to eye.
The Fence shifts effortlessly between the viewpoints of the lead women of the tale, Gwen and Francesca. Interestingly, the generation gap is very much evident in these two figures, which adds to the dynamics of this tenuous relationship. We often see the same set of events from a different viewpoint, which I really embraced. Jaffe’s characterisation is top notch. I thought this aspect of The Fence was presented with extreme care and insight. Within her novel, Jaffe manages to successfully present a variety of characters, from cantankerous but meaningful Gwen, to ambitious but vulnerable Frankie, to their spouses and children. This is a solid cast list and the time I spent with these people was thoroughly entertaining. I was also able to relate to both Frankie and Gwen at different points in the novel. Jaffe is clever in her approach to this novel, our hearts are often split between both women and I know my loyalty to each neighbour alternated as the book progressed. It really is a case of sitting on the fence with The Fence!
The Fence is a book filled with conflict and we see this through the rich interrogation of various themes in this novel. Jaffe explores careers, ambition, finances, work/ life balance, parenting, childcare, marriage, infidelity, ageing, dementia, strained family relations, grief, trust and friendship. These issues are presented with insight, as well as sensitivity. The emphasis on gardening thanks to Gwen’s work as a columnist offering gardening tips and advice provides an overarching theme of gardening to the mix. I enjoyed these bursts of text between the involving narrative.
The characters are really tested to their very limits throughout The Fence. We see the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of the situations they face. Expect to laugh out loud, hang your head in despair, throw the book at the wall, shake some sense into the characters, plot an intervention, or you may simply want to reach in and give these protagonists a hug to assure them everything will be alright!
In the end, after some moments of pure selfishness, indignation, enlightenment, connection and peace, these characters do come full circle. Something about this journey appealed to me a great deal and helped to elevate The Fence to a must read.
All in all, I just loved this one. I devoured The Fence in two indulgent sessions. Dare I say if work didn’t get in the way, I would have easily finished this in a sitting. I couldn’t wait to turn over each page to see what new drama episode would be unveiled. The balance of sharp humour, with moments of pure clarity, ensures that The Fence is a staple read that I recommend to all.
**** 4.5 stars
The Fence by Meredith Jaffe was published on 30th August 2016. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Fence, Meredith Jaffe, visit here.
The Fence is book #38 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge