- - Wednesday, June 19, 2019


By Louise Candlish

Berkley, $26, 368 pages

A year ago Louise Candlish’s first novel “Our House” kept home-owning readers on the edge of their seats with a twisty tale of a wife who came home to find another couple moving into her lovely London house. She discovers her husband had sold it — despite the fact that she was the co-owner.

Now the author’s second novel returns to the same territory: The leafy middle-class suburbs of London, where desirable older homes go for eye-watering sums and sell for astronomically much more once their youngish, affluent purchasers have fixed them up. They convert attics; install the latest appliances; and dig out basements where none existed before. Though they keep a vigilant eye on surging London house prices, for the moment the new owners are content to raise their children and enjoy a social life with their like-minded neighbors.

“Like-minded” is the crucial adjective. In Lowland Way Naomi and Ralph Morgan take the lead in friendliness and social responsibility. Ralph’s brother Finn lives next door with his wife Tess, who has collaborated with Naomi in a Play Out Sunday scheme that requires everyone to move their parked cars from the street on Sunday so the kids can safely play outdoors. Moving cars is necessary because their handsome homes were built before the day of the automobile so they have no garages and parking has to be found on the street.

That becomes a huge problem when Darren Booth moves in with a bunch of old cars that hog the parking space in front of everyone else’s home. When he plonks an old orange RV outside Ralph’s house, Ralph is outraged because that it forces him to leave his BMW streets away.

Darren’s next-door neighbors Ant and Em have more serious problems. Darren plays hideously loud heavy metal late into the wee hours. By day his construction projects are equally noisy. Not only can Ant and Em not sleep, but their baby seems to be developing hearing problems.

Sissy, who lives opposite, is also hit hard by Darren’s antisocial habits. She has been running a successful B&B business, but soon her guests’ online reviews commend her hospitality but warn others to stay away because Darren’s noise and mess spoils a visit.

Complaints have no effect. What are responsible bourgeois people like Ralph and Naomi, Finn and Tess, Em and Ant and Sissy to do?

The sections of this novel include transcripts of the interviews the Lowland Way residents have given to the police. They tantalize because for much of the novel readers don’t know exactly what the police are investigating — just that it’s something serious. No one could be blamed for suspecting a death is involved.

Other sections focus on the residents. We see the destruction of Ant and Em’s home life. We watch as Sissy’s loses her livelihood and much more. We see Ralph’s reach boiling point after an accident involving his skateboarding son. And we sympathize with Tess’ frustrations — not just with Darren but also with her with her assertive in-laws. “As usual, they were the most important people in the world, theirs the only perspective to be considered. The rest of us are only here to enhance them, she thought. They’re egomaniacs, not so different from the Booths.”

Not surprisingly, everyone thinks about the desirability of getting rid of Darren one way or another.

By the middle of this novel most readers will have their metaphorical money on the Lowland Way resident they think most likely to dislodge Darren. Louise Candlish takes us into their minds, showing us their fears and their non-negotiable interests. She is an acute observer. She’s sympathetic to her characters need to establish themselves as economically successful and socially serious. But, by naming the totems they set so much store by — the expensive new windows, the right school for their children, the smart vacation venues — she also suggests their tunnel vision. We see there’s something a little overwrought in the denizens of such places as Lowland Way.

The issues the author raises will resonate with readers who live in a nice but pricey neighborhoods that they want to keep that way, but the page-turning attention generated by Darren’s arrival fades in its final quarter of the novel because the early focus is on the two Morgan families shifts to Ant and Em and Sissy. Though the picture of their devastated lives is effective, the fading attention to Ralph and Naomi, Tess and Finn are a little bewildering. Nonetheless, this is a compelling summer read that inevitably raises issues about homeowners’ expectations.

• Claire Hopley is a writer and editor in Amherst, Mass.

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