The Switch by Beth O’Leary
Eileen is tired of being alone and 79 after her no-good husband walked out on her after decades of marriage. Leena is burnt out from her job after a particularly horrific anxiety attack during the presentation of the month. Sent on two months of vacation pay to rest her mind, she and her grandmother make a deal: they swap lives. Leena goes to her grandmother’s house in the countryside and takes over her obligations, and Eileen gets to have the London adventure she never had.
Not as fantastic as her first, but still pretty good.
I have never felt more out of my own control. It was like the fear got loose: it wasn’t a tight knot any more, it had tendrils, and they were tightening at my wrists and ankles and clawing at my throat. My heart was beating so fast—faster and faster—until it didn’t feel like part of my body any longer, it felt like a vicious thrashing little bird trapped against my ribcage.
As someone currently on the expressway to burnout, I felt Leena’s anxiety and faltering lack of control so keenly. This pandemic and all of the stress that’s it’s caused at work (in addition to all of the other stressors) has sent me on a downward spiral that has no end in sight (it does, actually, but that’s something I’m keeping hidden from my bosses for a minute longer). And the partner egging Leena on, pushing her, gaslighting her, playing her like a fiddle and tuning up her anxiety…oh I felt that too. So, so much.
It’s going to be quite hard to continue loving you if you’re going to spend the next eight weeks complaining about getting two months’ paid vacation.
*stares at everyone who was on paid admin leave for the pandemic*
No no, this isn’t a bitter spot at all. But lemme just say it was hard to love my sister and friends who were furloughed (still paid) and on paid admin leave and complaining about it. My team and I worked at work the entire time. There was no break and the strain is real, man.
Am I turning this review into a complaining session about me instead of an actual review? Er, yes, and I’m kinda sorry but this book had so many parallels to real life right now that I was just, um, yeah.
I am a seventy-nine-year-old woman. I have given birth. I have chained myself to a bulldozer to save a forest. I have stood up to Betsy about the new parking rules on Lower Lane. I can open this wretched jar of pasta.
Despite all of my empathy towards Leena, I found her story kinda…boring? I did like her story arc and found her inability to cook brownies absolutely hilarious, but wanted to smack her for keeping on her relationship with her awful boyfriend for so long when Hot Teacher was around. Eileen’s, on the other hand, was quite fabulous.
Remember The Holiday? This book is the movie, except Leena is Carmen Diaz and Eileen is Kate Winslet. And let’s be real: Kate Winslet’s story was so much better, even if Carmen was hooking up with Jude Law in Hot Dad Mode.
I loved Eileen’s relationships with Leena’s flatmates, particularly Fitz (they of the inevitably brown smoothies—same, my friend), and how she was the grandmother and friend figure to them, and how they accepted her into their circle in ways that were more precious and special than with Leena. I loved how loving Eileen was, how delighted she was to explore her new relationships. I loved that Eileen can’t watch movies with Jack Nicholson in them (same, minus Batman), and her lamentation that surely there’s another older gentlemen actor who can act in senior rom coms.
“Agatha Christie’s her favorite. She loves detective stories.”
“Most nosy people do,” Arnold says dryly. “It’s good validation.”
And I loved Arnold, that grouchy old sourpuss. I think that his relationship with Leena was my absolute favorite.
However, despite all of this love, I felt that the pacing could have picked up a bit. There was a lot of dragging on, and a lot of things that were touched upon and either rushed to finish or just rushed by the end.
The biggest note was the relationships women had with men and the various ways men held control and how women could reclaim that control or demand equality: from Eileen with her ex and her actor and her internet beau, to Leena and her awful boyfriend what’s-his-face, to Betsy and her husband, to the other relationships that were portrayed.
Plus, there was a big note on senior isolation, and how the push to modernization had driven many seniors into lives lived entirely alone, often without human contact in the digital world. And how internet predators can use this lack of knowledge to prey on seniors. And reliable transportation for seniors no longer able (physically or economically) to drive themselves, so they just stay at home and whither away in silent despair.
And also how to put on a big festival in town with a rival town going at it.
Okay, there was a lot going on in this story, and a lot went well and a lot…was rushed to wrap up.
Overall, it was emotional, it was hard-hitting, and it made me want to hug my grandma and sad that I couldn’t because we are a country apart.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.