At the center of this novel, set in present-day London, are two women. The narrator is Janna - a middle-aged contemporary woman of a certain sadness. Handsome, fashionable, somewhat self-involved, yet appealing in her energy and decency, she is the editor of a successful women's magazine. She is good at her work, she has friends (in a professional context), and her life seems to her a success. Yet since the sudden death of her husband - whom she had imagined she loved (certainly the sex was always good), but with whom she seldom had any serious communication and for whom she hardly grieved - she has felt emotionally disconnected, often painfully dislocated....
This book and its sequel,
And then there is Maudie, a woman of another time and of a different sadness. Skinny, rag-and-bone tattered and dirty, she is in her late eighties: a bundle of ferocity who has spent the last thirty years disintegrating and dying, sustaining herself on pride, expressing that pride as a cats hissing anger....
These two women - worlds apart, yet neighbours - come together by chance in a neighbourhood pharmacy: I was staring at an old creature, recalls Janna, and thought, a witch.... She saw me looking at her and thrust at me a prescription and said, What is this? You get it for me. ... I took the paper and knew I was taking much more than that. Janna is repelled by Maudie, by her sweet, sour, dusty sort of smell, by the grime on her old, thin neck, by the kind of life she symbolizes. But, at the same time, she is drawn to her; the mixture in Maudie of pride and shame and rightful anger breaks through Jannas emotional armour, making way for the strange, unspoken intimacy that arises between them in their first moments together.
This strong and affecting novel traces the friendship of these wildly disparate women. We watch as Janna moves from her first act of reluctant charity to a serious and thoughtful concern. We see her becoming Maudies caretaker - braving the old woman's rages, cleaning her filthy little flat, protecting her from the social workers impulse to institutionalize her, listening to her stories of life in a London more Dickensian than modern, steadily gaining her confidence and trust. And we see how, finally, having committed herself unstintingly to Maudie, Janna realizes that she has moved beyond mere concern and has forged a profound human connection - more profound than she has ever before, even in her marriage, experienced.
In The Diary of a Good Neighbour, Jane Somers gives us a story about being compelled - against every rational instinct - to do for others; about helping; about the inexplicable qualities of true friendship. here is an extraordinarily vivid and revealing picture of the forming and maintaining of a relationship - a picture alive with the warmth and irritation, the sweetness and anger, the love and sympathy that form the intricate texture of real emotional generosity.
Jane Somers is the pseudonym of a well-known English woman journalist.