**3.5 Goodreads Stars**
My last read of 2017 is Simon Lelic’s The New Neighbors, which is also marketed under the name The House. I actually think the latter name is more fitting for the book. I read it in one day while being stuck at home from ankle surgery (not fun).
The story is about Syd/Sydney and her partner, Jack. They are Londoners in the market for a new home and are becoming frustrated with the lousy (read expensive) housing market. They end up lucking out and getting a flat for a very cheap price despite the competitive market. A stroke of luck? Or is something more nefarious at work?
We learn that Syd grew up in an abusive household. Her father was a violent megalomaniac who physically and emotionally tortured her, her mother, and her sister, Jessica. Finally, when she couldn’t take it anymore, she ran away from home never to return again. She lived on the streets for years, changed her name and identity, and finally managed to get her life together right before she met Jack. Jack is everything Syd is not; he had an upper-middle class upbringing, he has an established career as someone who helps those in need with housing, and he is generally put together and polished.
When Syd and Jack move into their new house, they are stuck with the former occupant’s belongings. He supposedly up and left to Australia after meeting a woman online, abandoning all of his worldly possessions in the process. The house is a menagerie of oddities: creepy, weird, and perhaps downright worrisome. I’ll spare you the details because I don’t want to spoil the plot.
One day Syd chats up her neighbor’s daughter Elsie, who is a teenager. She exhibits signs of abuse that Syd knows well. Syd grows close to her, and is compelled to do something, anything, to help her the way no one helped Syd as a child. A confrontation with Elsie’s terrifyingly abusive, violent father prevents Syd from communicating with Elsie.
Elsie’s father is then found dead in the alleyway between the two homes, and Jack is accused of killing him. Did Jack do it? Did someone else kill him? Is Sydney somehow involved?
I started this book earlier this month and put it down because another book kept my attention. Once I was about 40% of the way in, I started to really enjoy the plot and characters. The plot is somewhat gnarly and complex, but it makes sense in the end. I did not see the ending coming, but I really like how it concluded. I am kind of surprised I didn’t see it coming, to be honest, but I’ll chalk that up to being on painkillers thanks to the screws and plates holding my ankle together 🙂
I am not sure why 3.5 stars felt right for this book, but it might be due to the slow start. The plot is very clever, but I struggled with scenes of child abuse. I think others might really love this book more than I did. It’s well written, but it’s just not my favorite read of the fall.
Thanks to Edelweiss+, the author, Simon Lelic, and the publisher, Berkley, for a free copy of the book for an honest review.