Book Review: The People At Number 9 by Felicity Everett
When Gav and Lou move into the house next door, Sara spends days plucking up courage to say hello. The neighbours are glamorous, chaotic and just a little eccentric. They make the rest of Sara’s street seem dull by comparison.
When the hand of friendship is extended, Sara is delighted and flattered. Incredibly, Gav and Lou seem to see something in Sara and Neil that they admire too. In no time at all, the two couples are soulmates, sharing suppers, bottles of red wine and childcare, laughing and trading stories and secrets late into the night in one another’s houses.
And the more time Sara spends with Gav and Lou, the more she longs to make changes in her own life. But those changes will come at a price. Soon Gav and Lou will be asking things they’ve no right to ask of their neighbours, with shattering consequences for all of them…
Have you met The People at Number 9? A dark and delicious novel about envy, longing and betrayal in the suburbs… (From Goodreads.com)
Published 6th April 2017 by HQ UK
Sometimes your expectation of what a book is going to be about can skew your experience of reading it. I think this is probably the case with The People At Number 9, being not at all what I was expecting and leaving me a little confused regarding my feelings towards it.
The People At Number 9 tells the story of two couples living in middle class suburbia. When Lou and Gav move in next door to Sara and Neil, Sara is dazzled. Creative, charismatic and cultured, they're everything she wants to be herself. When a friendship between the set of couples is established, they quickly start spending more and more time together, becoming increasingly intertwined with each others lives. But familiarity breeds contempt - right? And when the friendship begins to feel one-sided, jealousy and resentment starts to creep in.
I'll be honest, I was expecting more of a heart thumping, twisty psychological thriller style read when I started this. It is neither of those things. The darkness in this book is more subtle, it won't chill you or jump out at you, but rather cast a slow, uncomfortable realization of the less attractive qualities we all can be susceptible to now and then and like to keep hidden - envy, dissatisfaction, longing and insecurity. In Sara, those feeling are intensified, simmering resentments escalating to almost obsession. I didn't like her - she's a social climber, tries too hard to impress those she deems intelligent and admirable, making her unattractive to all around her. She's constantly trying to mold herself and her family into what she thinks they should be. Yet, I think if we're completely honest with ourselves, we can all recognise some of the thoughts and feelings she has, even if only fleeting. That's where the darkness lies in this book.
I didn't like Lou or Gav either, pretentious and manipulating that they are. Yet they were fascinatingly intriguing - in fact all of the characters were. There isn't one who I could say I liked (even the children if I'm allowed to say that!) yet they were realistic. Each one is so well observed, you'll be recognising people you know personally in them. The plot isn't far fetched or out of the ordinary, it's a believable story of domestic life and could be playing out between neighbours across the road as we speak. Yet it is at times utterly compelling. Felicity Everett's ability to capture human nature and traits and make the mundane fascinating is outstanding, and while I struggled to begin with due to taking a deep dislike to the characters, from around halfway through I couldn't stop reading.
Wrongly again, I expected a climatic or dramatic ending, waiting for it to happen and realising with only a couple of pages left that this wasn't going to happen. It's taken me a few days to write my review, as I needed time to process how I felt about this book. On reflection, having put aside any preconceptions I had about what this book was going to be, I can appreciate how well written and brilliantly observed it is. The People At Number 9 is probably going to divide opinion between readers, I know I'm not the only reviewer to find it completely different to expectations. Despite feeling a little disappointed that it wasn't the pacey thriller I wanted, I did find it compelling, intense and uncomfortably believable. A few days on I'm still thinking about it and recalling it vividly - it certainly made an impression on me despite my mixed feelings.
(I read an advanced copy courtesy of the publisher)