With Beth O’Leary’s debut The Flatshare one of my books of the year in 2019, I simply couldn’t resist breaking my self-imposed Netgally ban and requesting an e-copy of her second book The Switch even though I struggle with e-books because of my odd sight. Imagine my delight when a proof copy of The Switch arrived the very same day I made that request! My enormous thanks to Team Bookends for sending me a surprise copy.
Now, I was going to post this review nearer to publication, but as I’m not actually in India on holiday as planned today and these are tricky times, I thought I’d share a book that will bring some joy in these dark days.
Published by Quercus on 30th April 2020, The Switch is available for pre-order here.
Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…
When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.
Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.
Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?
My Review of The Switch
With Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare one of my books of the year in 2019, I was terrified to read The Switch in case there was a disappointing case of second novel syndrome. I need not have worried because The Switch is even better than The Flatshare. I absolutely adored it. I hadn’t even got to page twenty before Beth O’Leary had made me both shed a tear and laugh aloud and the rest of the story just got better and better.
The plot premise is hugely entertaining as Leena and Eileen swap places; with the concept of walking in another’s shoes, both literally and metaphorically, affording insight into character, society and life, in a fabulous blend of storytelling. It appealed to me that Leena can have a stimulating life away from London just as much as Eileen can leave her sheltered home village, and explore, in spite of approaching her eighties. There’s a perfect balance between the two narratives. It’s so wonderful to have an older protagonist in Eileen who isn’t seen as a little old lady, but rather as one who has physical and emotional strength and a life to live. Both Leena and Eileen walked straight into my heart from the moment they appeared on the page and stayed there because, despite their age differences, they seemed to represent a kind of Everywoman that any reader could relate to.
I’m not usually a fan of books where there are several minor characters, but in The Switch all the people are so vivid and engaging that this story simply wouldn’t have worked without them. They are brilliantly depicted so that each individual is clear and realistic. I might have been ever so slightly in love with one or two of them myself but I don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling the story.
The Switch might be defined as light, uplifting, women’s fiction, but that doesn’t prevent Beth O’Leary weaving in some weighty themes too. There’s a sensitive exploration of grief and loss, of love and loyalty, family and friendship written with humour and finesse that gives added depth and makes The Switch even more wonderful to read. The message that we all need human contact underpins the narrative with subtlety whilst being utterly convincing. I thought Beth O’Leary was a genius in illustrating how prickliness and surly behaviour might be masking a vulnerability and need. Her understanding and depiction of what a thriving community actually is and how we can make a better world for others at the same time as improving our own lives is inspiring and heartwarming.
I think The Switch is pure joy in book form and I loved it. I finished it feeling as if my life had been enhanced by its reading, that I had been brilliantly entertained and that someone had switched on sunshine so that I had been left with a warm glow. Wonderful.
About Beth O’Leary
Beth studied English at university before going into children’s publishing. She lives as close to the countryside as she can get while still being in reach of London, and wrote her first novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from work. She is now writing novels full time, and if she’s not at her desk, you’ll usually find her curled up somewhere with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).