The Couple Next Door has been on radar for quite some time now, especially since the summer when I downloaded the audiobook. However, I never got to listen to it, so when I found the Spanish translation at my local library I decided to give it a try. I don’t often read translations from English, as I would rather read the book in the original, but I am also a believer in supporting local libraries by using them. It also helped that my librarian said I would enjoy the book, and I would read it in a few sittings. As usual, she was right – librarians’ wisdom!
The Couple Next Door has been translated into Spanish by Ana Momplet Chico, and the original title has been kept, as well as the now iconic hardback cover design. I loved that my book showed signs of use, and I was really happy to hear that many people were borrowing it. The novel tells the story of any young parents’ worst nightmare. For their next door neighbour’s birthday, Anne and Marco leave their baby home alone, and decided to check on her every half an hour. But once the dinner becomes yet another tedious obligation, Anne goes to find solace at her house with her baby only to find her gone from her cradle. From this moment on, the story focuses on Anne and Marco’s story and how they deal with their missing daughter, the police, and their families.
The Couple Next Door fits perfectly into the domestic noir tradition, only this one from a Canadian writer. The setting of the story is clearly East-coast, and Anne and Marco’s lifestyle clearly borrows from the imaginary that we associate with upper-class New York City. This includes Anne’s overprotective and wealthy parents, and Marco’s story as a self-made man whose humble origins upset her in-laws. Sometimes the story uses too many of these social class clichés and it becomes predictable, but there is more to this novel than their two main characters. The crime in itself is not new and it is not something that we have not heard before in crime fiction. But Lapena includes a dark past, a secret, and postpartum depression in the mix so that there is a little bit more to Anne than her status as anxious mother.
Despite a very interesting plot with twists that had gained the novel comparisons to Gone Girl (again), The Couple Next Door is not innovative, and falls prey to gender-biased representations in the crime fiction tradition with women who do not act, but react, and men who think they know better (and act like it). Motherhood is obviously key in this development, and even though Anne’s postpartum depression could have led to some interesting examination of what mothers go through – see The Yellow Wallpaper – she is portrayed as a victim to her environment, who willing quit his job to become a mother and currently regrets it. Her feelings for her daughter go from frustrated to loving mother, and the disappearance of the baby just adds to her desire to be a ‘better mother’ who will never again resent her daughter.
Despite these flaws, The Couple Next Door reads quickly and it can be the perfect reading for a stay-at-home weekend, cozied up in bed with a good blanket and a cup of coffee. Lapena’s work is clearly something to keep an eye on, and I hope that in her next book – which she has promised will be out next year – explores crime fiction and female representations in more depth.