I was in a bit of a book-reading funk earlier this year.
I’m not sure what put me there. Perhaps I read a few stinkers in a row; perhaps I was in a funk myself, and therefore any task to which I turned my hand (or eyes) became funky by association. Perhaps both. Perhaps neither.
But then I received an offer to review some books. Good ones. I got back on board with The Pink Fibro Club on Facebook. And I steam-rolled through a great selection of reads.
Here’s a recent read that I’m still on the fence about (pun totally intended).
The Fence / Meredith Jaffe
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.
This book is about lots of things. It’s about marriage. It’s about fidelity. It’s about boundaries, friendship, parenting, memory, expectations, gardening and career. And more.
Yet it’s really about one thing. It’s about human interaction, in all its guises.
The Fence is a page-turner. I finished it in two days. I didn’t enjoy every minute of it, but once I reached a certain point, there was no turning back. I simply had to know what happened, how everything would be resolved, and whether the fence (or what it represented) could in fact save a marriage.
There were a few bugbears. The book contains a lot of run-on sentences, but I did notice that they usually appeared during the Gwen chapters. Perhaps that was just her voice.
The presentation of Francesca was caricaturish. She’s antagonistic and races into a fight because defence is her natural state. But while every now and then a bit more of her was shown to help you understand, she never quite became a full character for me. The beauty of The Fence is that this didn’t stop me feeling empathy for her. She faced the constant judgement of friends, family, neighbours and, worst of all, herself.
By the near-end of the book, I was warming to Francesca. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t. I don’t include spoilers in my book reviews, but I will say that I spent much of the book admiring certain character traits of Francesca’s, and felt that the ending dismissed them.
Gwen felt more real than Francesca, and less antagonistic, but no less set in her ways. I found her the more relatable of the two characters (and I think I was supposed to). Again, no spoilers, but there is one point in the book where Gwen lets loose with her frustrations, and it is absolutely glorious.
What I found most interesting about the book was the way Francesca’s children were spoken to, with and about. The questions of children, discipline, character and the boundaries and relationships between them all are played out beautifully along the same themes of the fence.
- If she was honest with herself, seeing Babs in such a state scared her, the reminder of her own mortality palpable in the shrunken version of her best friend.
- Oh Klaussman & Sons say all the right things about being a family-friendly company until anyone actually asks for the day off.
- Against their obvious delight stands their mother twisting the cord of her dressing gown as if trying to tie up all the sadness that leaches out of her.
- In light of the recent Camilla revelations, she wonders whether the Hills have become a convenient scapegoat for all the words she and Brandon should have shouted at each other.
I’m aware that this review isn’t glowing with praise. I didn’t love The Fence, but I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s well-written and structured, and the tension both between the residences, and within each one, builds throughout.
In fact, The Fence sat with me much the same way Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies did two years ago. Given the international success of that book (Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, anyone?), I am sure that the world will love this one too.
Have you read The Fence? What did you think?
* This is not a sponsored post. I received a copy of The Fence from Macmillan for the purposes of review. All views are my own. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click to purchase the item, I earn a little commission, but you don’t pay any extra.