Review: The Switch By Beth O'Leary
I have a system for annotating books. I use sticky tabs to mark any references I like or sections I find amusing: orange to mark quotations, yellow to mark anything that makes me happy, blue to mark anything that makes me sad, green to mark anything I especially like, and pink to mark anything I find funny. Looking at my copy of ‘The Switch’ now it is a rainbow of sticky tabs, but particularly awash with pink.
The book is a story of two narratives – a characteristic of Beth O’ Leary’s style - one of a grandmother, Eileen, and her granddaughter, Leena. Leena is a workaholic who is still haunted by her sister’s death, occurring only a year before the events of the novel, and mismanages a work presentation in the opening chapters of the book. Eileen is the grandmother who has grown somewhat tired of rural country life and is looking for love and a little excitement. So, when Leena is given a two-month sabbatical, they swap – Leena moves to Yorkshire and Eileen moves to London.
Though emotionally engaging and beautifully written - O’Leary emphasises the importance of family, friendships and having fun in your old age, as well as dealing with trauma and loss - I have one qualm in respect of the figure of Ethan. The protagonist’s boyfriend is not only irritating, but somewhat underdeveloped as a character, excepting for a thoroughly unpleasant demeanour. He is more or less absent in London throughout the book, an absentee boyfriend who makes infuriating quips about his girlfriend doing ‘the fifties housewife thing’, and the reader does not see much of Ethan until the book’s climax. On learning some distasteful news about her long-term partner, Leena is surprisingly reserved when it comes to confronting him: beyond some passive-aggressive texting, and a brief confrontation towards the end of the book, I found the scenario unpersuasive.
But on the whole, The Switch
is a delight. There is much to be praised here - the poignancy of Beth O’Leary’s writing, particularly the relationships between the protagonist and her grandmother, the exploration of the delayed addressing of trauma, and the phenomenon of working for distraction, carries real resonance. Beth O’ Leary has a genuine talent for writing unconventional stories and characters within otherwise conventional genres and tropes.
is published by Quercus Books.