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I absolutely adored the first Beth O’Leary book I read, The Flatshare. So, when I spotted a copy of The Switch at my favorite local bookstore, I didn’t even hesitate to snap it up.
Even better, the friend I was with mentioned she wanted to read it, too — and our next buddy read was born.
The Switch follows two Eileen Cottons — the older, original Eileen Cotton and her granddaughter of the same name, who goes by Leena. At the start of the book, Leena is living in London and reeling from the grief of losing her sister to cancer. She has a panic attack, flubs an important meeting, and winds up on a mandatory sabbatical from work.
Enter the scheme of switching lives with her grandmother, who’s also in need of a change since her cheating husband moved out. She wants to start dating again, but the trouble is, she already knows every eligible bachelor in her small village.
The setup might ask for a little suspension of disbelief as the women swap lives and phones, while the people around them just accept it (including Leena’s young roommates who suddenly have a 70+ flatmates). In spite of this, the change in scenery is so clearly what both women need, and of course, it allows for them to see what’s needed to change all along.
If anyone can win me over on dual POV writing, it’s O’Leary. Eileen and Leena have their own separate voices, and I enjoyed getting to see what each of them was up to in their swapped lives. Even if it feels a bit implausible they’d keep one another so out of the loop, I didn’t find myself questioning it too much as we went along.
Having an older protagonist in Eileen is something I loved, as well. I’ll confess to reading a lot of books with protagonists around my own age, and stepping into older shoes helped me square up with my own fears around aging a bit. Eileen enjoys using her “old lady” status to her advantage, which is quite entertaining at times.
Leena’s story felt a bit formulaic at times, falling into a couple of tropes that I’m a bit tired of. The first being that we open with her unexpectedly losing/being temporary let go from her job — a very common starting point for youngish female protagonists, I’ve noticed.
The second is the part of the book that my buddy reading friend and I agree we could’ve done without — her boyfriend, Ethan. He’s got a bit of the stereotypical Hallmark big city boyfriend/villain vibes about him, and I would’ve liked to see a bit more well-roundedness from him so we could understand why Leena is clinging to the relationship.
My second qualm has some spoiler-y vibes to it, so please skip ahead to where I note the spoiler-y bit is over if you haven’t yet read The Switch and don’t want to be spoiled.
Seriously though, spoilers ahead. Okay? Okay.
The reason that Leena ultimately decides she’s done with Ethan is also predictable and stereotypical — he’s cheating on her while she’s living out of the city.
I understand that Leena might have needed a push to get out of that relationship, but personally I’m a bit tired of the “wow my partner is so obviously terrible, I mean look, he’s even cheating” direction. Sometimes two people can not suck and still not be right for one another, and wouldn’t that be a more interesting story to tell?
(Spoiler-y bit over!)
There’s plenty of fun to be had as both women shake up their lives and see what it would look like to live a little differently. That said, O’Leary doesn’t shy away from the heavier elements, either. This book tackles family relationships and grief in a realistic and powerful way as three generations of Cottons navigate what it means to lose Carla.
In spite of my little quibble with a character who, frankly, the book could do without, I very much enjoyed The Switch. It had all the cozy British vibes I hoped it would, plus all the entertainment that a granddaughter/grandmother role reversal promises.
I recommend this book to fans of family stories, those who enjoy a romance where characters are also doing actual life, and of course, fans of Beth O’Leary.
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