Review of That Woman Next Door by Harper Bliss
I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book but it was definitely not this. Maybe the title, the cover, and the blurb of That Woman Next Door suggest a levity that this book doesn’t have. This is no Hallmark love story (though it’s still a romance) and I say this in the best of ways because I was pleasantly surprised by how realistic it felt. When I reached the end and read the acknowledgments I realised why. More of this later.
Olivia Chevalier lives alone and isolated in a rural area in Brittany, France. She follows a strict routine and avoids human interaction as much as possible. That is until Marie Dievart moves to the next-door house and disrupts her life with her unexpected visits, her questions and her overall gorgeous self. As Marie starts breaking down Olivia’s walls, Olivia realises that she’s not the only one hiding from the rest of the world…
Who doesn’t like an author pouring their soul out on a book? Many times readers ask themselves how much of an author’s personality is present in a given character. Very rarely do they get this answer:
“I might as well have hung my soul out to dry, for all the world to see, that’s how much of myself is portrayed in the character of Olivia.” (Acknowledgements)
This isn’t the first time Ms. Bliss used her writing as a cathartic exercise. Her Two Hearts Trilogy is a testament to her diagnosis with autism and, previously, At the Water’s Edge, her struggle with depression. Her candor is admirable and brave but above all, the reasons behind it are extremely important: representation and visibility. This is the reason why I read lesfic, I love seeing myself in lots of very different characters, I love the agency, the empowerment, the possibilities that I couldn’t see when I came out in the late 1980s when the women loving women stories were scarce and depressing. I’m sure that these books will give voice and hope to many people who read them. For all of that, Ms. Bliss has my respect and praise.
This is an age gap romance, the most common trope in Ms. Bliss’s work. But beyond the romance and the age gap, this is a story about the characters’ journey to acceptance and redemption. It’s about hiding but also revealing, it’s about guilt but also compassion, it’s about isolation but also connection. Ms. Bliss says in the acknowledgments that the working title was Difficult Women… difficult indeed. I loved the complexity of the characters, their going one step forward and then two backward. Frustrating, yes, but also realistic. I’m glad that the original title was discarded as I possibly wouldn’t have read it.
I loved the choice of the setting of Brittany in the dead of winter. The cold, rainy weather and the barren small town make the perfect background for this story. Additionally, fans of Ms. Bliss’s That woman series will be happy to see another side of villain Marie Dievart.
If you are looking for romance with substance and characters who feel human and credible, then this is for you. 4.5 stars.
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.