Everyone has secrets. How far will you go to protect yours?After living next to the neighbours from hell, Minette is overjoyed when Cath and her two children move in next door. Cath soon becomes her confidante, a kindred spirit, even her daughter’s babysitter.But Cath keeps herself unusually guarded and is reluctant to speak of her past. And when Minette witnesses something unspeakable, she begins to question whether she really knows her new friend at all…
Welcome to the first stop on the BLOG TOUR for The Good Neighbour by Beth Miller,
The Good Neighbour is published in paperback by Ebury Press on 10 September and is Beth Miller's second novel. Her first; When We Were Sisters was published in August 2014.
Minette is a young mother, her daughter Tilly keeps her busy but she has struggled with motherhood and the challenges and changes that it has brought to her life. One of her biggest challenges has been the elderly couple who used to live next door. Their constant complaints about the noise have worn her down, tiptoeing about the house, trying to keep Tilly quiet, constantly on her guard. This, coupled with the seemingly endless days filled with trips to the toyshop, and no adult conversation has made her tired and desperate for something more in her life.
When Cath and her two young children move in next door after the departure of the neighbours from hell, Minette is overjoyed. Cath appears to be a breath of fresh air, someone who will be a friend, someone to admire and who inspires her. Cath's children have multiple medical problems, yet she seems to cope so well. She makes friends easily, soon becoming a central part of the neighbourhood, throwing parties, finding out about everyone, making introductions and pulling the neighbours together. She also manages to care for her son Davey who is in a wheelchair whilst ensuring that her daughter Lola avoids the many things that she is allergic too. Oh, and she's training for a fundraising triathalon at the same time.
Cath becomes the centre of Minette's world. After all, her relationship with her partner Abe is not at it's best at the moment. He works hard, he's tired, their sex life is non-existent. Cath makes Minette feel alive again.
I have so many things that I want to discuss about The Good Neighbour and I'm looking forward to talking to my friends who have also read it. It's difficult to address my questions in a review, as by doing so, I would give too many things away about the characters and about the plot.
I can say that The Good Neighbour is set on a street that seems to be populated by the weirdest bunch of people I've ever come across in one novel. Minette is a complex character, who appears to be quite meek and mild, downtrodden and struggling, yet at times she makes some mind-boggling decisions that don't seem to fit in with what we have learnt about her. Whilst she does defend her thought processes with brief glimpses into her past, I really wanted to know more about her, pre-baby.
Cath. Where to start? I didn't like her at all, even when the reader learns her full back story, I still didn't like her. She's an extraordinary character who is quite frankly, fucked up. She also succeeds in fucking up most of the people that she meets. She speaks in a dialect that seems to be a cross between London and Yorkshire and refers to herself as Cathykins. She's dangerous, manipulative, and I really couldn't warm to her at all. There is so much more about Cath and her past that I wanted to know in detail. Again, like Minette, the reader is treated to brief snapshots of the past, but I need to know more. I need to be able to find my empathy for Cath, I want to understand her, but I really can't.
The Good Neighbour is a puzzling, yet intriguing look at life behind the front doors on a typically average street in an English town. I must admit that I had worked out what Cath was up to fairly early on in the story. I put that down to having worked in a very famous high-security forensic psychiatric hospital, and I think this proves that Beth Miller writes with authority and authenticity about issues that are complex and difficult to understand.
The Good Neighbour is a page turner and despite my loathing, yes loathing, of most of the characters, I found myself turning the pages so quickly, desperate to see how things would turn out. The ending is quite unexpected I'm happy to say, but again, has left me with so many questions that I am desperate to discuss with other readers.
Beth Miller has kindly provided a signed copy of The Good Neighbour as a prize for one of my blog readers. To enter, please complete the widget at the end of this post. Good luck everyone. (UK entries only).
I'm thrilled to welcome the author, Beth Miller here to Random Things today. Beth has agreed to answer some questions for me. Please do check out the other stops on the Blog Tour over the coming days.
Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?
Do I read them?! I know some of them by heart! I even know exactly how many I have! (The first novel has 52 reviews on Amazon, Fact Fans.) Yes, I read them all. I even read the ones on Good Reads, the Wild West of reviewing. I take the positive reviews very seriously; the bad ones not so much. No, I do, but I completely accept that not everyone is going to like it. There are books I adore that have got crummy reviews. There is no one book that everyone likes. So if my book doesn’t suit someone, I don’t mind hearing that. I’m always interested to hear what people think about it: good and bad. The thing I hate is silence. I’d far rather have a bad review than not know what someone thought. The imaginary bad review… that’s the WORST. I hope this nudges my brother to finally tell me what he thought about my first novel, which he has had for over a year.
How long does it take to write a novel?
From my experience, anything from about a year up to twelve years. My first novel took, yes, twelve years, from writing the words, ‘Chapter One’ to being published. I think that is an unusually long time. The second novel took just under a year. I guess I got all the messing about out of the way with the first one. Come back to me when I’ve finished the third and we’ll see if I have got faster or slower.
Do you have any writing rituals?
No, unless you count mucking about on the internet before starting?
What was your favourite childhood book?
Awkward Magic by Elizabeth Beresford. I loved that book. I still love it and re-read it every couple of years. I read it out loud to my children recently, but to my chagrin they didn’t think it was as marvellous as I do. EB also wrote The Wombles books, but Awkward Magic is in a league of its own. The characters, the atmosphere, the humour, the emotion, the tension, the inevitable-yet-surprising ending… it’s the perfect book.
Name one book that made you laugh? Name one book that made you cry?
I much prefer funny books to sad. PG Wodehouse books generally make me laugh, and so do Bill Bryson’s, but I guess if I had to choose one laugh-out-loud book it would be Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Douglas Adams). It’s just so exactly my sense of humour. As for crying, I recently read Little Women to my daughter and I could barely get through it for sobbing. It’s not like Beth, my namesake [spoiler alert] even dies in that one, but for some reason I was choked up by the emotion of it. Not a cool choice, but a true one.
Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Great question! My favourite female character is Billy, in Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin. Scruffy, deadpan, a woman’s woman – I think she would be terrific fun. And for altogether different reasons, I would quite like to meet Mannix, from the most recent book I read – Marian Keyes’ enjoyable The Woman Who Stole My Life. He seemed rather attractive. Or even better, Maurice Zapp from David Lodge’s Changing Places. He is one of my most favourite male characters ever.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
I have given numerous friends Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. It’s the perfect book, a grown-up equivalent to Awkward Magic. I don’t mean it’s in any way like it, content-wise, but it has the same mix of humour, tension, emotional truth and cleverly hidden plot devices that I just admire so much. (They’re also both quite short.)
Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
I find the way Anne Patchett writes about writing extremely inspiring. For anyone interested in writing their own stories, I really recommend a couple of essays in her book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. In fact I’ve just remembered that another essay in that book, about opening up her own bookshop, makes me sob like a baby. Though it’s non-fiction, I must add it to my list of books that make me cry.
What is your guilty pleasure read?
Well that’s the wonderful thing about the Kindle, isn’t it? You can read any kind of nonsense and no-one knows, as long as you put on your ‘Don’t bug me, I’m reading Nabokov’ face. I don’t think I feel guilty about any books I read. I like popular books, page-turners, chick-lit, kids’ books. I do sometimes feel guilty about re-reading old favourites when there are so many new and untried books out there.
What book have you re-read?
Loads. It’s so comforting, re-reading. Probably the books I’ve read the most number of times are The Go-Between (L.P. Hartley), Heartburn (Nora Ephron), Wifey (Judy Blume), Patchwork Planet (Anne Tyler), The Snapper (Roddy Doyle), High Fidelity (Nick Hornby), Trilogy of a Scottish Childhood (Molly Weir) and My Uncle Oswald (Roald Dahl). Actually I have also read Pride and Prejudice dozens of times but saying that feels a bit like putting a classical record into your Desert Island Disc choices in amongst the pop, to make you sound more sophisticated.
What book have you given up on?
This happens rarely, but there was one very recently… I can’t name names, alas. Let’s just say that I gave up on a fairly new book which had tons of great reviews. I got about a quarter of the way through, but just found it utterly predictable and repetitive. I’m afraid I lost patience, even though I know what a blimming hard slog it is to write a book. I feel bad about abandoning it. But not as bad as if I’d finished it. Life is too short to finish books you don’t like. Classics that I have given up on include Madame Bovary – I just didn’t get on with it – and anything by Thomas Hardy, can’t bear him, sorry Hardy fans.
Beth Miller has published two novels with Ebury Press (Random): When We Were Sisters and The Good Neighbour.
She is currently writing her third novel, and is awaiting the publication of her book about the world’s greatest radio show, For The Loveof The Archers.
Find out more at her website www.bethmiller.co.uk
Follow her on Twitter @drbethmiller