“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 some obvious 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 easy to get lost in the plot and there are a few plotholes that the author falls into.
Mara obviously takes on too much and needs to have stripped things back a little, but the layered story comes together well in the end. Nothing is too obvious, there are some original twists, and the tension builds quite nicely, so it’s certainly worth sticking with.
As usual with this trend of female-led thrillers, there are some great themes of womanhood which start off well but soon get left behind. 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 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 and nothing more comes of these developments.
Too often these themes are explored well in the beginning to build up a character’s personality, but as female author who is writing about a female character, Mara could have made better use of her experiences and knowledge 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 negatives of this book as there’s too much going in the beginning and then a lack of tied up endings when things come to a close, but as Mara’s first publication, I still think that she’s an author to keep an eye on. Her thriller is addictive and captivating for the most part and it doesn’t fall flat to predictability or disengagement; there are just a few elements that will undoubtedly improve with experience.