When I have the pleasure of meeting British novelist Sophie Hannah in person, some of the first things I will tell her "about me" are these: Catty-corner to the rear of my apartment lives a man known to blare Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and other "un-ignorable" classic rock as late as 3 a.m. on a weeknight with his windows wide open. On the opposite diagonal corner lives an extended family that spends almost every summer weekend in their back yard blasting salsa music and playing basketball until at least midnight. Downstairs resides a magnificent burlesque dancer who sometimes has to listen to a single song many, many times while she creates new routines; she married a (ridiculously talented) jazz trumpet player whose casual music listening results in the steady thump thump thump of an upright bass carrying through the ceiling to my wooden floor and straight into my brain.
I'll tell her these things because she'll understand that, at times, my haven from the heartless world can feel like a torture chamber from which there is no escape.
Reading her latest novel, The Orphan Choir, almost hit too close to home for me. It's the story of a woman who reaches her emotional and psychological limit as an inconsiderate next-door neighbor ignores her noise complaints. The psychological toll -- feelings of abandonment and self-doubt -- is palpable as her story reaches and then surpasses the boundaries of reason and reality.
In the guest article that follows, Ms. Hannah explores just how bad a fictional neighbor can be.
My new supernatural thriller, The Orphan Choir, starts with a nightmare scenario that is so common that people rarely discuss just how awful it is: the problem of noisy neighbors. Because it's so ordinary and has happened to us, or to somebody we know, it does not seem horrific -- until you have suffered it day after day, that is. The noisy neighbor in The Orphan Choir is called Mr. Fahrenheit (because he plays "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen in the middle of the night!), but, despite his nuisance noise-making, he is probably not the character in fiction that I would least like to live next door to. Here is a list of fictional characters I would hate to have as neighbors:
|Character: Mr. Rochester |
Author: Charlotte BrontÃ«
Rationale: Especially not if my bedroom were in the converted attic. Screaming Bertha in the adjoining attic would not be fun to listen to at night.
|Character: Heathcliff |
Author: Emily BrontÃ«
Rationale: Cathy's ghost knocking at the window at all hours would wake me up, especially if the knocking at the window was accompanied by her rendition of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights song (and, let's face it, if it wasn't that would really be a missed opportunity).
|Character: Colonel Kurtz |
Novel:Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
Rationale: Hearing him moan, 'The horror, the horror' every time his alarm clock went off at 6 am would be a bit of a downer.
|Character: Bartleby |
Novel:Bartleby the Scrivener
Author: Herman Melville
Rationale: I could be doing him an injustice, but I would imagine he would prefer not to turn down the volume when listening to music.
If I could pick my ideal fictional-character neighbor, I would pick Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. She doesn't look as if she'd listen to loud stadium rock all night long, and we could get together and compare notes about our exes, bitchily. That might be fun. Luckily, I'm pretty scruffy, so I wouldn't even mind getting covered in cobwebs!