I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned here already that I’ve been participating in the Books & Bubbles virtual book club? It is lovely – every second month we are sent a book in the mail, and we discuss them in a video chat (with members in Adelaide meeting up in real life on a different day). This month we read The Switch by Beth O’Leary, and I was really curious to see what I would think of this one. I feel like O’Leary has quickly become a darling of the romcom/uplift fiction genre, and I had seen loads of glowing reviews both for this one and her first novel, The Flatshare. I’m also always a bit curious about books in this genre that take off in this way, given the vibe can be pretty similar to cosy (Christmas) romances and rural romances. I can report that it definitely hit the spot for light, sweet, fun, and a bit ridiculous.
What is Beth O’Leary’s The Switch about?
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 by Beth O’Leary
It took me a little bit to get into this one – the start of the book, particularly around Leena’s presentation at work, felt a little bit awkward to me, and I didn’t really feel like the story got into a rhythm until Leena and Eileen agreed on their life swap. I also found the first person perspective a bit hard to get along with in bits (this is often something that grates on me a bit). Once the story got moving though, and the women started to get stuck into each other’s lives, I found it moved along nicely, and was definitely an easy, sweet, sometimes funny and often ridiculous (and I mean that in a good way!) read.
I enjoyed the cast of characters we met, both in London and Yorkshire – there was a definite Vicar of Dibley vibe feel to some of the meetings Leena sits through! I would have liked to get to know some of the characters a bit better – one of the questions in our book club meeting was whether we had a favourite character, and while I found the characters all quite fun and a bit quirky, to be honest I didn’t feel like I got to know anyone well enough to have a favourite. I did like the relationships that developed between the characters though, in particular the friendships between younger and older characters.
I have heard that the rights for this one have been sold, and I think it will actually adapt really well to a movie – one of the observations that came up in our book club discussion was that there were a number of scenes throughout the book that read as though they were written for the screen. I do also think there were some side plots/details that deserved to either be fleshed out more fully or left out altogether (for instance there is an allusion to a character being mistreated by their spouse – possibly physically – which was really glossed over) and I will be interested to see how these are handled if the story is adapted.
Another interesting question we discussed in book club was whether this reminded us of any other books we have read – this was a fairly firm yes for me, which does make sense given the heavy use of tropes in this genre (I love the tropes, by the way!). I mentioned above there were some bits that felt like a screenplay, and there were definitely a couple of scenes that felt straight out of a Hallmark movie – my favourite of which actually referenced how ‘Hallmarky’ the story was playing out (I always appreciate this sort of humour in books, where they are kind of calling themselves out a bit!). A couple of Australian titles came to mind that I think fans of O’Leary might enjoy. The style of The Switch really reminded me of The Book Ninja and While You Were Reading (which I reviewed here) by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus. Also, I think that readers who enjoyed seeing Leena a bit out of her depth and relying on new (older) friends to acheive something new to her, all while being distracted by a handsome neighbour, might really enjoy Leonie Kelsall’s The Farm at Peppertree Crossing (my review is here).
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