Paperback review: Cheek By Jowl - A History of Neighbours, By Emily Cockayne


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The Independent Culture

Cockayne might have relished the grisly story of 17th-century Mary King's Close in Edinburgh, where neighbours of those suffering the plague were apparently bricked up alongside them and left to die.

Alas, her history stops at the border, but this account of neighbours the length and breadth of England stresses the closeness of strangers who might become friends, lovers, or even murderers – as well as victims. The terrace may be more ubiquitous in England than the tenement, but it was every bit as over-populated, and those Victorians seeking to "keep up with the Joneses" by inflicting their piano-playing on their neighbours probably were an excellent reason for the semi-detached coming into being. Informative but fun, with an important message about society, Cockayne's history is a human one, with all the heartache and joy that entails.