Winner of the 2014 Viva La Novella Prize
When Luke is implicated in the tragic death of a child, he struggles to assert his innocence to those around him. While the accident invokes haunting memories of Luke’s late brother, who died when they were children, he strives to maintain a grip on reality as his relationships begin to unravel. Set in contemporary suburbia,The Neighbour is an astute psychological drama that offers a powerful and literary meditation on the nature of guilt and responsibility.
While I was impressed by so many of the entries to Viva La Novella—the quality of the writing and the breadth of ideas—The Neighbour was an immediate standout for me. I was taken with the story and the prose style from the very first page, and by the end of the first chapter, I was completely immersed in the lives of Julie Proudfoot’s characters and the predicament in which they found themselves. I just wanted to keep reading, and when I’d finished, the story stayed with me; I knew I’d found my winner.
The Neighbour is a powerful blend of psychological drama and domestic realism, and it tackles some weighty themes—guilt, redemption, coping with grief—without ever feeling heavy-handed. One of the reasons it struck me was its potential resonance with readers: it deals with a topic that’s quite controversial and a situation that could happen to anyone (without wanting to give too much away, the story centres on a terrible accident that changes the lives of two families who live next door to one another). So I think the story has broad appeal—Julie strikes a fine balance between getting into the main character’s head in the aftermath of a life-changing event, and giving us a snapshot of contemporary suburbia and its attendant human drama. Many of us can probably identify with the characters, and how one wrong decision can have such far-reaching consequences, and that makes the story more powerful.
Julie Proudfoot was such a pleasure to work with—she made my job easy! Editing The Neighbour was very much a collaborative process, and it was also very interesting—both of us were thinking and talking about its characters as real people, and in a way they do become real, because once they take shape on the page it’s like they begin to carve their own trajectory in the narrative. It was particularly rewarding for both of us to see the story take its final shape as Julie refined it in response to my initial manuscript assessment and our subsequent discussions and ideas. The manuscript was originally a bit long to officially be classified as a novella, so we got it back down to around 50,000 words, and I think it’s even stronger as a slightly shorter work.
Novellas have recently experienced a bit of a revival—they’ve been a rather neglected form, with many people thinking that because they fall into this ‘no-man’s-land’ of being too long for a short story but too short for a novel, they’re not worthy of the same level of attention. I’m so glad that’s changing, because crafting an engaging piece of shorter fiction isn’t as easy as some people might assume—the length of the finished product has little bearing on how long it took to form in a writer's mind and then to commit to paper, or how long it ends up lingering in readers’ minds once it’s on a page or screen. I’m proud of my contribution to The Neighbour, but Julie’s the one who deserves the credit, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.