Review: The Neighbor (By Joseph Souza)

Source: Goodreads

Length: 352 pages

My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Leah and her husband, Clay, move from Seattle to Maine along with their eleven-year-old twins so that Clay can fulfill his dream of opening his own brewery. Leah envisions a life where she’s part of a thriving community in a plush neighborhood, surrounded by a loving family, and good friends with whom she can bond and share things large and small. Instead, she gets a husband who’s too busy to ever be around, twin kids who have no friends, and an empty neighborhood which is the result of a housing project abandoned midway. Now, all her hopes of building strong friendship bonds rest on the only other couple in the neighborhood. But Clarissa and Russell Gaines are aloof and uninviting. Leah’s interest in Clarissa begins as a potential friend. But the more the couple stay distant, the more Leah’s interest grows. Until it becomes an obsession that affects every part of her life. Before she can control it, she’s sneaking into her neighbor’s home, taking small objects, and allowing her envy of their elegant lifestyle to grow. Then she finds Clarissa’s diary. As she begins to read through the private pages, she discovers that Clarissa’s life isn’t as comfortable as it seems. Secrets run deep between the couple, secrets that have a direct effect on the mysterious kidnapping of a local college girl. Equally obsessed with the disappearance of the student, Leah finds herself investigating the crime even as she hopes that a solution would help bring Clarissa closer to her. But Leah has her own secrets that she doesn’t want exposed. As she begins to lose herself in her obsession, secrets, reputations, relationships, and even lives begin to come under threat. Yet, Leah pursues, unaware of the fact that things are even stranger than they seem. And that discovering the truth may not give her what she wants. In fact, it may shatter lives forever.

The Bottom Line:

The Neighbor is made slightly interesting with a lot of layers, but they fail to hide the fact that the book is nothing more than the unpleasant story of two whiny, selfish, clueless adults who you just cannot like.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Psychological thriller. As riveting as Gone Girl. Twisted. Page-turner.

These are some of the terms you’d find associated with The Neighbor. I completely agree with the last one, but definitely not the others. In fact, my allegiance lies with those reviews and reviewers who chose to express themselves (while speaking about The Neighbor) with terms like illogical plot, shallow and unlikable characters, and unbelievable actions.

The Neighbor has a lot going on. There’s a missing girl. There’s a lonely housewife who wants some friends with whom she can connect. There’s a murder. There are secrets. There are a whole lot of references to racism and discussion on the topic. There are marital concerns. There’s alcoholism. And there is some BDSM-esque kinkiness tossed in too.

The problem is that all these aspects are just annoying.

To better explain, I need to mention that the book is written from the perspectives of Leah and Clay. And it starts with Leah, who is so dang annoying, saying that she gets “giddy with excitement” when she steps out of the house to good weather. It was actually difficult to continue reading after that start. But a twist thrown at you a couple of pages later gives you hope and keeps you going.

There are innumerable twists in The Neighbor. And that’s the reason you want to know what happens next, the reason you turn page after page. There is a lot of stuff going on, most of which can add interesting elements. But what you can never get away from is the fact that, at its very essence, the story is about two incredibly selfish, annoying, and oddly stupid people – Leah and Clay.

These are two individuals who live life in their own bubble of misunderstanding (regarding each other). They are both alcoholics in denial who are quick to (hypocritically) blame each other. There are a few moments where they seem to show an inkling of self-awareness. Until it’s drowned in their go-to habit of making excuses. All in all, they are incredibly unlikable as human beings, spouses, and parents.

As a result, you don’t really care that anything is happening to them or that they’re facing a problem. You’re more interested in discovering which of the events is a lie, which isn’t, and what’s really going along. The only people you feel for in the book are Leah and Clay’s kids and their dog, and that’s mainly because they are stuck with terrible people for no fault of their own.

Leah and Clay’s relationship and the way the book is told from their perspectives is what makes people draw the similarity to Gone Girl, I think. To be honest, similarities do exist. But the intentional, selfish twistedness of the characters in Gone Girl also made them associable. You could actually envision people like that – those who would do what it took to get what they wanted. It’s what made the book uncomfortably good (check out my review of Gone Girl here for more deets on that!). In The Neighbor, the characters are selfish but too clueless. I mean, seriously – Leah’s only goal in life is, “I want to be Clarissa’s friend.” These are selfish people who are too lost to actually do anything about what they want, except for crib when things do change. And that just makes them annoying, especially in their abrupt bipolarity (seriously, they keep contradicting themselves in consecutive sentences until their motivation, meaning, and drive is completely lost on the reader).

Putting the Gone Girl comparison aside, The Neighbor is just not a likable book. It’s got some suspense and enough storytelling power to keep you turning the pages. But the many social problems it addresses seem to just be layers on an otherwise dry story of two not-nice people.

So should you read The Neighbor? I’d say give it a pass. There are other psychological thrillers out there that have real depth in their stories, that go deep into the chaos that is the human mind and what it can make one do. Try one of them instead. If you still want to give The Neighbor a shot – it releases on 24th April 2018.

Want to share your thoughts on The Neighbor? Drop a comment below!

– Rishika

Review: Gone Girl (By Gillian Flynn)

Gone Girl Source: Goodreads
Gone Girl
Source: Goodreads

Length: 475 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Nick Dunne has been married to Amy for five years; and yet, he can barely recognize the woman he sees on the morning of their fifth anniversary. As he walks into the kitchen that morning, he can barely recognize himself. He knows that things are not like they once were, he knows that they’ve done ‘this’ to each other, but he cannot fathom what this is. Nick is still trying to figure out what he needs to do next to right what has gone so very wrong when Amy disappears.

His wife’s disappearance on their fifth wedding anniversary grabs the attention of the media and puts Nick in the spotlight. The media and the world holds him responsible, the police find evidence that suggests that Nick Dunne might have murdered his wife, and Nick is learning facts about his wife’s life that he didn’t even know existed. Within days, the noose around his neck begins to tighten, no one wants to believe his flimsy side of the tale, and everyone, including Nick is left wondering just what happened to the beautiful, loving, and amazing Amy.

My take:

This book isn’t made for the faint of heart – not because it has great gore or violence, but because it forces you to look into the depths of reality, into an aspect of life that most people would presume to be non-existent, that they would blatantly deny, and towards which they would choose to remain blind.

The book begins innocently enough – a crime thriller that promises twists and turns. It definitely delivers on the twists, but it also offers much more. Gone Girl is a classic whodunit with a psychological twist that is sure to mess with you. There are times when the twists make you pause and think, “Whoa!” This can happen even if you’ve expected some or all of the twist, simply because of the way it unfolds and the underlying psyche and reason behind it. You get such a deep understanding of the character of each person in the story, that you will either hate or love them.

Story-wise, Gone Girl is surely different. It goes much beyond what you would expect and keeps you turning the pages as you try to guess what comes next. But, it also has some elements that make the experience a tad annoying. Flynn’s style is one of them – it is one that is a little difficult to get used to and that has seemingly unnecessary variations, most often from a passive to an aggressive narration. The one thing that can get annoyingly confusing is the abbreviation ‘Go’ which is what Nick Dunne’s sister is called. The word crops up much more than you would expect and can get very confusing, making you re-read far too many sentences.

In spite of its problems, the book is a must-read, if for nothing else than for its excellent character development, character dynamics, and the way with which it can, and will, mess with your head. There are a few moments in the book that will have you saying, “What the hell?!” and others that leave you wondering whether to hate the book or love it. The end is one such part.

I had to check and re-check to make sure that it did, in fact, end. Then, I got annoyed. And then I realized that it was the most fitting end possible. In retrospect, it keeps with the shocking theme of the book. Should you add the book to your reading list? Definitely! You may hate it or you may love it. I doubt anyone has mediocre feelings towards the book. But it is definitely not one that you should miss. After all, not every book can leave you with a perfect understanding of why the things that are happening are happening, and yet leave you asking yourself just why they should ever happen!

– Rishika