Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Switch by Beth O'Leary


I've developed a reputation for being a fan of dark romances but sometimes I like to read something cute. When I found a new copy of THE SWITCH at a thrift store, I was excited because I really enjoyed the author's other book, THE FLATSHARE, despite thinking it would just be pointless fluff. There was an emotional depth to that book and a really strong connection between the two leads that made it so much more than a bookish piece of candy that you forget after one bite. I was excited to see what the author would do in her other books, too.

THE SWITCH kind of has the same premise as those house-swapping shows that were popular in the aughts. Leena and Eileen are granddaughter and grandmother. Leena works a stressful corporate job in London and has just messed up a major presentation by having a panic attack after overworking herself for months. Eileen lives in a small English village; her husband left her and she fills the void of loneliness by looking after her daughter and participating in the Neighborhood Watch Association, which is filled with other nosy, lonely busybodies, like herself.

They end up proposing a swap of each other's houses. Eileen will go to London to take care of things and maybe do some online dating with over-seventies folks, and Leena will rest and convalesce in the English village and take some time to clear her head. It seems like the perfect plan, except in the village, Leena starts to fall for a sweater-wearing teacher who isn't her boyfriend and Eileen finds out that dating isn't quite as simple or easy as she thought it would be, and that her granddaughter's problems go so much deeper than a maybe half-hidden fear of public speaking.

So I'm going to be straight up and say that I didn't like this as much as I did THE FLATSHARE. Namely because it wasn't as romantic or sweet or light-hearted. This one has a pretty heavy subplot involving cancer, like so many other chick-lit books seem to have these days, and it's not mentioned in the blurb, which I know some people find triggering. The heroine has a sister who died of cancer and it put a rift between Leena and her mother, and it's talked about a lot. I appreciate the importance of grief and overcoming it to the point where it becomes manageable even if it never goes away, but I hadn't quite signed up for that. So if you're sensitive to topics like that, take heed.

The romance was also pretty weak. Weirdly, the grandmother gets most of the romance (and the sex scenes!), which is refreshing but also makes the book feel very one-sided. This is more Eileen's book than it is Leena's, which is also not obvious from the cover, as it was designed in the exact same way as THE FLATSHARE, but I feel like FLATSHARE is targeted towards young women in their late-teens to their early thirties, whereas the targeted audience for THE SWITCH feels older. I wish there had been more development between Leena and her love interest. It felt like they went from like to love very quickly, to the point where the epilogue had me going, "Whaaa?"

I also feel like things were never fully resolved with the mother. And the resolution with Leena and her not-nice boyfriend wasn't nearly as satisfying as the one in THE FLATSHARE. THE SWITCH ends up feeling more like chick-lit than a romance because the focus of the story is less on romance than it is on the development of the characters. It actually reminded me a lot of Jane Green's books, only without the mean streak of humor that could make those such difficult reads. Not surprised Marian Keyes blurbed my copy, either, because there's definitely traces of that sort of family hijinks vibe present here, too.

Overall, I'd say that this was fine. I skimmed a little towards the end because I got a little bored but it was cute, and Eileen is the cozy, meddling grandmother that I always secretly wished I had growing up.

3 out of 5 stars

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