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BOOK REVIEW – Tiger in a Cage by Allie Cresswell

tiger-in-a-cageThis is a dense, involved and intricate exploration into the lives of the ‘Combe Close Set’ as seen from the perspective of Molly, who so desperately wants to surround herself with comfortable camaraderie and friendship. Alas, this is difficult to do when you yourself are not a comfortable or socially aware individual.

Molly is, in fact, rather naïve, and as we delve into this deeply descriptive novel, told alternately between past and present, we see that she is often very much on the periphery of this group that she works so hard at forging cohesive bonds with. She’s socially inept and given to misunderstanding most of the undercurrents that occur within their little group. She misses many obvious social cues. She realises too late that a lot of what she classifies as ‘unacceptable’ behaviour is going on right under her nose.

I alternated between feeling quite sorry for the hapless Molly and wanting to shake the stupidity out of her! My pity came from her truly dismal background, which was due to no fault of her own. Escaping at the first opportunity she got, she married the awful Stan and much of the time actually fears him and his unfounded responses to the fairly reasonable behaviour of their neighbours . A stronger woman would most certainly have left him. Once again, she fails to understand the basis of much of his interaction with the people who they live among, and it often falls to them to protect her as best they can from many of his irrational outbursts.

Cresswell  fleshes out her characters so well, although it did take me a while to figure out who was who. I absolutely loved the in-depth descriptions of all the convoluted relationships that unfold. One feels quite voyeuristic reading of all the intricacies and complications that predictably result from living in such close proximity to one another.

With time, it’s inevitable that these connections break down; the bonds loosen and aren’t able to remain as strong as Molly wants them to be, no matter how hard she tries. And when it’s revealed to her that in actual fact maybe her friends aren’t quite who she thought they were in the first place, she’s not sure she wants to maintain the strong ties she’s worked so hard to maintain.

This is a profound and thought-provoking look into the complexities of human relationships; the faults and failings we possess;  what we’re willing to overlook and what we’re willing to accept, whether it’s for the sake of love, to keep the peace, or due to sheer indifference.

Be willing to commit time to this book. It’s engrossing and all-encompassing and well worth the read.

Many thanks to THE Book Club Reviewers Request Group and Allie Cresswell for my copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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BOOK REVIEW – The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

The Woman Next DoorHortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours in the affluent (fictitious) Cape Town suburb of Katterjan Estates. They’re both getting on in years, struggling to deal with their past successful careers that they can no longer use to define who they are, and using the Estate committee meetings as the battleground for their intense dislike for each other.

Both are embittered by the deep disappointments that life has dealt them: marriages that weren’t what they anticipated; for Hortensia, the lack of children, and for Marion, four children and the undeniable realisation that she has failed dismally at motherhood. They are unable to leave past hurts behind them. Marion cannot get over the fact that Hortensia is living in the perfect house that she designed in the heyday of her architectural prowess, while she, Marion is living next-door to her. But what irks her the most is that Hortensia dared to come and live in Marion’s neighbourhood, snubbed her when she first arrived, and still has the nerve to behave as if she’s as good, if not better, than all of those who’ve lived there much longer than she has, when she’s not even white!

In post-Apartheid South Africa, this is really the crux of the feud between these two women. Because Marion is a racist snob, and will go out of her way to point out to anyone who will listen that when the fine balance of things gets tilted, the entire world can spin off its axis. She therefore feels that it’s her civic duty to maintain order in her little empire of Katterjan Estates. If that means waging war with Hortensia then she’s fully prepared to take her on.

However, she doesn’t quite reckon on someone who’s just as bolshie as she is! And both of them also forget that the universe has a funny habit of throwing us curveballs when we least expect them. I couldn’t help wondering what Hortensia and Marion would have been like had they lived in another place and time. What would their relationship have been like? This question continues to intrigues me, and I can’t help imagining them quite differently, almost in an alternate universe!

This is an intricate, profound novel about the complexities of growing old and the desperate need to cling to long-held beliefs and philosophies, even when hit by the rising dread that these might be wrong. It delves into how we’re moulded by family, country and political sublimation, despite our adamant claims that we’re free-thinkers.

Omotoso’s writing is intense, dignified, moving and provocative, as are her characters. She will challenge you to think and to question; to look deep inside yourself and examine your interactions and relationships with those close to you, as well as your reactions to those who are different from you.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I highly recommend this book!

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