The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

As a charming distraction from the Covid19 world, The Switch has all the winning ingredients, especially for the female reader.

There is a clever, beautiful thirty-something heroine; a feisty adventurous seventy-year-old, her grandmother; a handsome, near perfect hero and a host of diverse minor characters. There is even a lively Labrador puppy to provide the link from heroine to hero.

All this is basking in a setting of inner London, living in a block of flats, and a picturesque village nestling in the Yorkshire dales.

Leena, the heroine, is advised to have some time away from her events-managing, high pressured work in London in order to deal with her rising stress levels made more acute by her grief surrounding the death of her beloved sister, Carla, from cancer.

She has unresolved issues with her mother, who is attempting to handle her grief in a different way.

Exchanging places, literally, with her lively grandmother emerges as an irresistible suggestion.  A completely different lifestyle in a small village in the country offers Leena a solution. What better way to slow down and lower her anxiety by returning to the spot where she grew up with many happy times remembered.

Clearwater Cottage, in tiny Hamsleigh, is the backdrop to her activities. She soon becomes part of village life, assuming the roles and friendships her grandmother had fostered there. Not only does she manage the vagaries of the locals, determinedly settled in their routines, she successfully handles their quirks and encourages some to overcome their shortcomings. Leena plays a significant part in the Neighbourhood Watch and the organisation of May Day celebrations.

Amidst these activities she comes to the realisation of what is truly worthwhile in a relationship.

Simultaneously, in London in Shoreditch, Eileen, her grandmother sets about transforming the lives of people in the flats, that is Leena’s world. She encourages communal contact, enhances her fashion sense and even manages to explore online dating.

At the risk of divulging too much of the plot, I have highlighted some of it in order to show that The Switch ranges over many aspects of modern life, in the city or the country.

The pressure of work and relationships on the young, society’s attitude to ageing, the isolation and loneliness of many in Western societies, domestic abuse, and same sex rights to parenthood, to name the most important.

Beth O’Leary has written for children and one other adult novel.   She writes with a deft and almost light-hearted touch, in spite of the seriousness of some of the circumstances. The romance of the concept of the switch is treated with an engaging warmth, and the characters all display endearing traits.

Humour emerges too.

Ethan, a flashy financial guru, takes his leave in his condescending way; “People counting on me, millions at stake, that sort of thing” ….

Jackson, the village teacher, retorts, “I’m a teacher. No millions at stake, just futures”.

If there is a negative to the book, for me, it is its happily-ever-after quality.  Big problems are solved in a very short space of time, a few weeks. For example, Betsy, a neighbour, has suffered psychological abuse from her husband, Cliff, all their married life. Encouraged by Leena’s urging, she refuses to accept her life with him anymore. This happens during Leena’s brief stay in Hamsleigh.

It lends a fairy tale air to the plights of the characters facing serious difficulties.

Of course, there are many readers who would revel in the ‘feel good’ scenario and this explains why this genre of writing is so successful.

The Switch

by Beth O’Leary

[2020]

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 1 78747 500 7

330pages    $32.99.  Ebook $15.99

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