The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
I’d been looking forward to reading this book. Many people said they “couldn’t put it down” and seeing as it’s a global bestseller, my expectations were pretty high. When I received a copy for my birthday I couldn’t wait to get stuck in, and I was initially hooked. But this feeling didn’t last and by halfway through I found myself getting frustrated with the predictability of the plot.
The Couple Next Door follows the story of Anne and Marco Conti, who return home from a dinner party to find their baby girl has disappeared. Lapena jumps straight into explaining that Anne and Marco had accepted an invitation to join their next-door neighbours for the event. Racked with guilt about leaving her baby at home alone, Anne had clung to her baby monitor throughout the party and made regular trips home to check on her daughter.
‘We left our six-month-old baby alone and went to a party. She imagines all their jaws dropping in shock, the uncomfortable silence. But she will never tell them. She’d be shunned.’
It’s not long until the Contis house is swarming with police officers and, before we’ve really got to know Anne and Marco, Detective Rasbach is on the scene, ready to piece together the events of that night.
The tale unfolds in a gripping series of twists and turns; we meet the babysitter who cancelled on the Contis, we’re introduced to Anne’s millionaire mother and stepfather, and we learn more about the private life of the neighbours, Graham and Cynthia Stillwell.
I enjoyed this book to a point. I was gripped by the opening chapter and was eager to see where the story would go next. The book plays on every parent’s worst nightmare you can really empathise with Anne when she realises her baby has gone missing.
Hinting at postnatal depression, I feel this book accurately reflects how some parents may long for their ‘old’ lives again. I can only imagine the horror that a mother might feel upon realising her child has vanished, and I think the author depicts this exceptionally well.
‘Anne feels her scream inside her own head and reverberating off the walls – her scream is everywhere. Then she falls silent and stands in front of the empty crib, rigid, her hand to her mouth… ‘call the police’ Anne whispers, then throws up, the vomit cascading over her fingers onto the hardwood floor as she bends over. The baby’s room, painted a soft butter yellow with stencils of baby lambs frolicking on the walls, immediately fills with the smell of bile and panic.’
My main issue with this book is the feeling of not being able to connect with any of the characters. I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t go into enough detail about Anne’s past, or perhaps it doesn’t really explore how much post-natal depression had affected Anne and Marco’s marriage. I feel that more could have been explored here to help the reader understand what may have led the characters to carry out certain actions.
I also found it difficult to connect with a family that could invest so much of their own money into the investigation. The grandparents came across as cold and distant – again, I was left wondering why – and their access to millions of pounds seemed an all-too-easy plot device for the story to unfold.
While this book was beautifully written, the plot was was predictable; I often found myself rushing to get to the next chapter to find out what I had already assumed. For me, the final chapter felt out of place and not in keeping with the rest of the story.
Overall, The Couple Next Door is an entertaining, easy read. I’m not convinced it deserves its crown as a global bestseller. However, if you’re a fan of Gone Girl or Girl on the Train then I think you will enjoy this book. Rating 3/5.