The House Swap
Penguin Random House
Review: Karen Watkins
The idea of swapping houses with a stranger is a novel one.
In this psychologically suspenseful story Caroline and Francis set out from their home in Leeds for a house in Chiswick, London. with plans to repair their 15-year rocky marriage. Leaving their 4½-year-old son with his grandmother, they settle into the sparsely furnished suburban house, finding it hard to imagine who the owner could be.
It is not long before Caroline finds flowers, music and other things that remind her of Carl, a co-worker with whom she had a passionate extramarital affair two years earlier.
Caroline soon suspects that S Kennedy, the owner of the house-swap, is actually Carl. Added to the cast of characters is their over-friendly Chiswick neighbour Amber, who Caroline believes has links to Carl.
As the deep, dark story unfolds, sexual obsession, drug addiction and stalking are revealed. The chapters flip back and forth from 2012 to 2015, sometimes about Caroline, at other times Francis.
The house-swap only actually takes place over one week but the pace is extremely slow and the story leaves numerous unanswered questions, such as why did the affair between Carl and Caroline end and why does she stay married to Francis. Also, why is Francis taking drugs and why is he sticking it out with Caroline when he knows she has been having an affair. And who is S Kennedy and why is this person going to such extreme lengths to torment Caroline with reminders of Carl? The characters could have been fleshed out more, providing a glimpse into their personalities and what makes them tick.
The actions of the main characters do not resonate with their age and dent the credibility of the story. The thread running throughout is about Caroline and Carl’s obsession, but we cannot condemn them, in fact, it is easy to envy them.
And yet, the message behind the story comes across as being that the consequences of our actions and the outcome of what we do impact others.
Rebecca Fleet lives and works in London and this is her first novel.