‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’
When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.
On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.
But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .
I was drawn to this novel after reading online the positive reactions from early readers and the intriguing blurb. My expectations were fully met because I was hooked from the first page. The novel is set in 2013 and 2015 and it’s told from three different points of view: mostly Caroline, her husband Francis, and the unknown character that is staying in their house for a week.
Francis and Caroline have been together for fifteen years, married for eight, and they have a young son, Eddie. For the last few years their lives have been hard. Francis has been fighting (with no much conviction) an addiction to pills, so Caroline found comfort in the arms of her colleague Carl, eight years her junior. The affair ended “horribly”, according to her, and Francis stopped taking pills and, two years later, they are still trying to save their marriage, although it seems mostly for their son’s sake. This house swap is their chance to reconnect and to spend more time together without being too expensive, but things are strange from the beginning because the house seems unlived and cold. There aren’t many personal effect of the person who lives there, the person who is now staying in their house. But when Caroline starts to notice a few things that remind her of Carl and their affair, she starts to suspect that this holiday has been planned from someone else who is not her, someone who is now in her house. Is it Carl? If so, why is he contacting her after two years of silence? And what does he want?
The author masterly leads the reader through Caroline’s affair with Carl, her conflicting feelings both towards him and her husband, and her confusion and shock as she starts to figure out that there is something strange going on. I couldn’t put down the book as I wanted to read what really happened that made her affair with Carl end in a horrible way, what she is hiding, and I couldn’t wait to find out who is really the person staying in her house. I was also suspicious of Amber, the girl living next to their holiday house. She was always calling Caroline and knocking on her door and I kept asking myself: why is she so friendly? I was taken by surprise when the truth was revealed.
The novel is slow-paced and character-driven. It’s also a quick read, both because I couldn’t stop reading it but also because the narration flows easily and flawlessly. THE HOUSE SWAP is carefully plotted, brilliantly written, haunting, and immersive and I’d like to thank Poppy Stimpson, Thomas Hill, and Transworld Books for giving me the chance to read this book and to take part in the blog.
Rebecca Fleet lives and works in London. The House Swap is her first thriller.