Doubleday | 2018 (3 May) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
The marriage of Caroline and Francis is in trouble. Sometimes it seems as if the only thing holding them together is their adored young son, Eddie. Perhaps it’s time for them to rediscover themselves, to take some time away from home, from Eddie, to reignite that spark that drew them together in the first place. On a whim Caroline had entered a house swap scheme. Finally, she gets a hit. Somebody would like to swap for a week his house in the leafy London suburb of Chiswick for their flat in the centre of Leeds. Full of hope, Caroline and Francis set off. But the house they find is nothing like they expected. It is stripped of personal items and character. It feels like a spotless shell.
But there are flowers waiting for them and a choice of music in the CD player that gives Caroline an uneasy feeling. There is something very familiar about these little things, almost as if a message has been left for her in this stranger’s house. It reminds her of a past she wants forgotten forever. And suddenly the thought hits her that this person, whoever they might really be, is in her own flat. And they seem to know everything about her.
The House Swap has a fantastic premise and it certainly had me intrigued to read it. Its narrative pushes the story on in chapters that move between the present day and events that took place about three years before. Most of the narrative is from Caroline’s point of view but there are other chapters which give us another perspective, especially that of her husband Francis. And it’s to Francis that we are increasingly drawn as we learn more and more about Caroline’s past. There are other sections, though, the ones filled with menace, as we’re taken into the Leeds flat now inhabited by a stranger who has their own plans for Caroline.
I did have issues with The House Swap, largely focused on how difficult I found it to empathise with Caroline. She’s increasingly difficult to like, as is her behaviour. I did feel sorry for Francis and I was glad when chapters allowed him a voice. My other issue was with the frequent sexual content, which I wasn’t expecting and gave the novel an erotic edge that I wouldn’t normally go for. However, the story kept me intrigued throughout and I was keen to discover the truth. There are moments of menace here that I particularly welcomed. Rebecca Fleet is very good at establishing a sinister tone. She can also write a pacey tale because the pages of The House Swap flew through the fingers.
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