The characters in Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel The Fence may live in the pleasant-sounding, Green Valley, but the neighbourhood is far from idyllic. It’s actually the setting for two feuding next door neighbours. At times some parts of this story would not be out of place on A Current Affair or Today Tonight with the title, “Shocking neighbours.” This novel ultimately shares a few things in common with Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap in that it is a well-written family drama set in suburban Australia.
Jaffé is a writer and former book critic for The Hoopla. When you consider these experiences and her writing in The Fence, it is obvious that Jaffé knows how to tell a good story. This novel starts off a little slowly and it does contain some unlikeable characters but it does hit its stride as the tension mounts between the two households.
Gwen Hill is an elderly lady who has lived in the same street in Green Valley for decades. She and her husband were the first residents in this cul-de-sac and it is here that she raised her children and made a life for her family. Hill also created an immaculate garden that she is immensely proud of and she also forged a close relationship with her next door neighbour, Babs.
Michael is Babs’s son and after both of his parents pass away he and his wife decide to sell the family home. Gwen is shocked and she takes an immediate disliking to her new, young neighbours. At first it is hard to warm to Gwen and her stubborn and opinionated ways.
The neighbours are the Boyd-Desmarchelliers family. Francesca Desmarchelliers is the mother of four rowdy young children and the family bread-winner in a highflying, corporate role. Her husband, Brandon Boyd stays at home and looks after the children and the house. It is immediately obvious that Gwen and Francesca are quite different in terms of their opinions but they also share a determined doggedness. When Desmarchelliers decides to build a large fence for privacy and to keep her children and the family pets safe, this sets off a series of chain reactions that soon escalate out of control.
The story is told in the third person but the focus shifts between Gwen and Francesca’s perspectives in monthly increments. As a result of this the reader becomes absorbed in this tale of two women and will often find themselves choosing an allegiance with one of these neighbours. For some it will be a case of oscillating between both sides while others may be left sitting on the fence.
Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel is a clever and witty one where she captures what could have been quite a dark and territorial part of Australian society but injects this with a lightness and humour. The story seems quite simple but it’s actually quite a complex social comedy and layered family drama. This is one very promising debut that shows that even the simple idea of a home among the gum trees with a husband, kids and a white picket fence can actually be more than what it seems.
***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-the-fence