Thursday, 30 November 2017

Book Review: The Woman at Number 24 by Juliet Ashton (BATC #BookClub)


Title: The Woman at Number 24
Author: Juliet Ashton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Publication Date: 20th April 2017

Blurb

When your marriage falls apart, the last place you'd want your husband to move to is downstairs. Unfortunately for Sarah, up in the eaves at number 24, her ex-husband now lives one floor beneath her with his new wife. Their happiness floats up through the floorboards, taunting her.
A child psychologist, Sarah has picked up great sadness from the little girl, Una, who lives with her careworn mother three floors below, but is Sarah emotionally equipped to reach out?
The Spring brings a new couple to the house. Jane and Tom's zest for life revives the flagging spirits, and Sarah can't deny the instant attraction to handsome Tom. Having seen at first hand what infidelity does to people, she'll never act on it ... but the air fizzes with potential.

The sunshine doesn't reach every corner of number 24, however. Elderly Mavis, tucked away in the basement, has kept the world at bay for decades. She's about to find out that she can't hide forever.


Review

The Woman at Number 24 gives a snapshot into the lives of the residents of a Notting Hill property divided into 5 flats.
   
Child Psychologist Sarah lives in the top floor flat. Sarah is in the process of re-decorating her flat with the intention of selling up and moving on. Suffering a crisis of confidence at work and recovering from a recent divorce, Sarah is looking for a new start, away from the memories of her unfaithful ex, Leo.

Unfortunately for Sarah, the floor below is occupied by Leo and his new wife, Helena, the glamorous woman responsible for breaking up Sarah and Leo’s marriage.

On the first floor live new residents, Jane and Tom Boyce. Jane and Sarah become firm friends, yet Sarah feels an attraction towards the patient and gentle Tom which could start to make their friendship a little bit awkward.

The basement flat is split into two, with one half occupied by busy single mum, Lisa, and her young mute daughter Una. They desperately need help to bring Una out of her selective mutism, however Sarah feels unable to help, in view of her difficulties at work.

In the other basement flat live elderly Mavis and Peck the foul-mouthed parrot. Permanently cranky and never content unless she is grumbling, Mavis eschews any attempts at friendship and makes for a pretty horrible neighbour. 

The residents are virtual strangers who keep themselves to themselves and have little interest in their neighbours. With the arrival of both a friendly new couple and the summer sun, the neighbours begin to come together and Number 24 gradually comes to life.  

The story is told from Sarah’s viewpoint and she makes for a real and likeable protagonist. I felt her discontent and her sense of loss, not just Leo’s departure but her loss of focus in life, and I wanted to see her confidence restored.
 
The tale is character driven. Ashton has skilfully produced a realistic and relatable cast. The most surprising character is the elderly and cranky Mavis. It is her character that develops the most over the course of the story. I also enjoyed learning more about Leo. My views towards him changed numerous times throughout the story. Mostly, I felt a deep dislike for his self-indulgent and immature ways. However, at times, I felt almost an iota of sympathy for a man who may never find happiness due to his own flaws and failings.
 
My favourite characters, however, are the Number 24 pets – Peck the foul-mouthed parrot and Mikey the adorable hedgehog.
 
The tale is set almost entirely in one location, at Number 24. In this way, the house almost takes on a character of its own – it really is a case of ‘if the walls could talk’.
 
The story is well-executed, proving to be a thoughtful and enjoyable read. It is interesting to consider how relationships of all kinds develop and what impact we can have on other peoples’ lives, even people that we may not be very close to, such as our neighbours.
 
I very much enjoyed The Woman at Number 24. It is a well-written, warm and genuine story of community, forgiveness and friendships. A thought-provoking and absorbing tale that I would recommend to lovers of women’s fiction.


About the Author

Juliet Ashton was born in Fulham and still lives in London. She writes under a variety of names, including her real name, Bernadette Strachan, and as Claire Sandy. She is married and has one daughter. Find out more at www.berniestrachan.com


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