“Lying in bed later that night, listening to the soft breathing of her baby son, the images play on her mind – the imagined child in the pond, side by side with the flowerbed at its edge – and when she falls asleep, she dreams of missing children.”
Published in 2017 and written by Andrea Mara, The Other Side of the Wall begins as Sylvia looks out her bedroom window to see a child face down in the pond next door. But when she races into her neighbour’s garden, the pond is empty and no-one is answering the door. Forced to believe that she was just seeing things, despite the fact that a local child has gone missing, Sylvia’s husband insists it’s all in her mind and encourages her to give their new neighbour, Sam, another chance. After all, he seems friendly and helpful enough. However, after further bizarre disturbances occur in her house at night, it soon becomes obvious that there’s something very wrong on the other side of the wall.
As Mara’s debut novel, there are a few flaws in The Other Side of the Wall. First of all, there are so many characters and timelines that it gets really confusing at times. As the narrative switches from past to present and from one character’s story to another, it’s easy to get lost in the plot, and there are a few plotholes that the author falls into.
There is a little too much going on in the beginning, but the multi-layered story does come together well in the end. Nothing is obvious, there are some original twists, and the tension builds quite nicely.
As a female-led thriller, there are some great themes of womanhood which start off well but do get left behind somewhat. As the story begins with Sylvia wondering if night feeds and sleep deprivation are getting to her, I liked how Mara explored the early weeks of motherhood. I’ve been there with the hallucinations from sleep deprivation due to breastfeeding a newborn every two hours, so I thought that she did this really well.
We also see her character juggle the pressures of life at home and work as she forgets to make time for herself for fear of being judged on her parenting skills and abilities, so she is a relatable character to follow. But as always, those around Sylvia are so unsupportive and ignorant of her emotions that her opinions are quickly dismissed, while nothing more comes of these developments. I just wish Mara better used her experiences to really make a point about such issues, instead of only using them as a narrative technique to create an unreliable narrator.
There are a few things I wish were tied up better at the end, but as Mara’s first publication, I still think that she’s an author to keep an eye on. This thriller is addictive and captivating, and it doesn’t fall flat to predictability or disengagement; there are just a few elements that will undoubtedly improve with experience.
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