Leena Cotton was on the fast track in corporate London, where she was the youngest senior consultant at Selmount Consulting. But after her beloved sister dies, Leena loses her footing. Panic attacks are threatening to derail her career. She’s placed on a mandatory two-month sabbatical.
At the same time, Leena’s grandmother Eileen is feeling lonely and lost after her husband left her for their dance instructor. Life in the village of Hamleigh is slow, and Eileen finds herself ranking the available men. (Typical pros include "own teeth" and "full head of hair," while cons range from "tremendous bore" to "always wears tweed.")
Clearly, Leena and Eileen need shaking up, and they agree to switch homes for several weeks. Eileen—whose own London career dreams were cut short when she got pregnant so many years ago—eagerly moves in with Leena’s colorful roommates. She is immediately struck by how disconnected Londoners seem; the tenants in Leena’s apartment building don’t even know each other’s names. She begins an effort to bring the community together, particularly the lonely, isolated older residents.
Meanwhile, Leena is adjusting to just how connected Hamleigh is. Everyone knows each other’s business—and has an opinion about it. When Leena volunteers to help with the annual village celebration, she must navigate the meddling of Hamleigh’s longtime residents. She also reconnects with a childhood friend who is now a single father and the village’s most eligible bachelor. Leena finds herself wondering whether she can trade her fast-paced London lifestyle for the village, where memories of her sister are everywhere.
Despite the bucolic setting for much of the story, Beth O’Leary’s second novel is brisk and engaging. Her writing is warm, funny and oh-so-British. The characters she creates feel real—especially the older residents of Hamleigh, who are hilariously cranky and nosy but never lapse into caricature. In this time of increased isolation, The Switch offers a hopeful reminder to reach out to our neighbors with an open mind. It’s a cozy, lovely story about how community matters more than ever.
“These people. There’s such a fierceness to them, such a lovingness,” Leena says. “When I got here, I thought their lives were small and silly, but I was wrong. They’re some of the biggest people I know.”