The Switch – Beth O’Leary

An uplifting if naive take on lives that need changing. Interestingly played between a granddaughter and grandmother adding the layer of complexity that comes with age. A book that means to make you feel good and for the most part achieves it. 

Yet another book that came with one of the subscription boxes, I don’t even know which one, to be honest. I just know I wouldn’t buy it myself, as I always think that the time for such books in my life has passed. But then I do tend to take myself too seriously, only to be swiftly brought down by life or the Bigger Half :). 

The plot is not only simple it’s also been done to death in literature and movies. Leena is a young successful consultant in London, living with great flatmates in Shoreditch and in a relationship with a fellow consultant from her company, who seems to be the model partner. During one of the critical presentations, she gets a paralyzing panic attack and blows it completely. As her performance has been declining for a while her boss offers her a deal. And it is a deal that I seriously doubt would have happened in real life, but there it is: Leena is to take an eight-week sabbatical. What sounds like a dream for most of us sends Leena spinning, because her entire sense of self-worth is anchored in her work.

At the other end, we have Leena’s grandmother, Eileen. Living in a tiny cottage in a tiny village in Yorkshire. Eileen is over eighty, and recently her husband decided to leave her with a pilates teacher if memory serves me right (I’ve read this book before Christmas, so forgive me). But Eileen is not done with life or love for that matter. She carefully considers her options in the limited environment she’s in and there aren’t many, and none of them appealing. 

As Leena seeks refuge in Eileen’s cottage she comes up with an idea that may help them both, the switch from the title. Leena will mind Eileen’s business in the village and keep all her little projects going and Eileen will move in with Leena’s flatmates in Shoreditch, where her hunting grounds will be larger and certainly more fertile. 

Technically everything else is relatively expected, but there is something that kept me with this book. It was Eileen’s side of the story, while Leena is a bit of a whiner, Eileen takes life by the horns. She has the experience enough not to care what others will think of her, she is eighty and she joyously uses the ‘old crazy lady’ card to get what she wants. At the same time she is a caring person, from another era, she insists on getting to know all the neighbors, a thing unheard of in London rental apartments, and that’s just the start.

Both Eileen and Leena make certain, relatively unsurprising, discoveries about themselves, and manage to heal some traumas. It is not really what happens in this book that matters, it is more the atmosphere of crazy humor with coziness and tenderness for people. Yes, it is a fairy tale, and no it will not change your life. But it makes for a few lovely afternoons in a dream world where people are just people, where there is no pandemic for two years, where we are not bombarded with news of far-right, climate disaster, or any number of other atrocities that happen. It is pure escapism, and we all need it sometimes. 

I think the trick lies in how O’Leary handles the side characters too, she gives them a few distinctive features but also lets them develop throughout the course of the book, so they are not just extras to the main story. She also avoids the trap of sentimentalism, sometimes by millimeters, but still, the sense of humor manages to save her from it.

3 thoughts on “The Switch – Beth O’Leary

  1. I’ve heard good things about this one and this doesn’t send me away from it. She seems to be an accomplished writer who stays this side of over-sentimentality. I expect to find it in a local charity shop when the book piles have subsided a little.

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    1. Unfortunately, I left it in Poland to control my luggage size on the way back to UK 😉 otherwise I’d send it to you. If you’ll like anything else I’m reviewing let me know, I’m happy to send the books over within UK, decluttering in preparation for moving country 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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