Changing Places (by Colette Caddle)

I hadn’t heard of Colette Caddie, but found this book when browsing a church bookstall just over a year ago. The cover appealed to me, and the blurb sounded like an interesting storyline. So I paid my 50 cents, and the book has sat on my to-read shelf for over a year until I finally picked it up a few days ago, hoping for a light and relaxing read in a busy period.

‘Changing Places’ is about two sisters, Anna and Rachel. Anna loves her job as an estate agent, and is happily married to Liam. They’re just thinking about trying to start a family when disaster strikes… and they both start to become suspicious, anxious and increasingly unhappy.

Rachel is married to Gary and they have a small son, Alex. Rachel feels frumpy and overweight, and while she adores her son she is convinced Gary is having an affair, and she often feels envious of her sister. Their parents sold their home and bought a camper van, in which they’re touring Europe during their retirement, and the only person who holds Anna and Rachel together is their cousin Jill.

The scenarios are good, and the various plot threads run nicely together, showing problems that arise in both marriages, and in Jill’s own life too: Jill has just broken up with a boyfriend and is rather regretting it. Liam’s mother is quite demanding, and her neighbour rather fancies Liam; one of Anna’s clients is clearly attracted to her. Gary is out later and later in evenings, and Rachel hasn’t even told him some important news….

And yet, the novel didn’t grab me. The characterisation is all rather flat with lots of description and - at least at the beginning - very little actually showing the people in situations that enabled the reader to see for themselves. There’s a lot of introspection, too; viewpoints switch regularly so we see inside people’s heads, but a lot of their thoughts are shallow, going over and over the same ground, taking offence or becoming suspicious when a simple question could have sorted things out - or even assuming the best rather than the worst.

Moreover, while I could somewhat relate to both Anna and Rachel (though not their antipathy to each other, which feels forced) I really couldn’t believe in Jill. She’s supposed to be a peacemaker, but her personality doesn’t fit that role. She likes excitement, partying, drinking and expensive fashion, and sees flaws in anybody who’s attracted to her. Five-year-old Alex, too, was unrealisitic. He's remarkably materialistic, always asking people what they had brought him, more interested in presents than people. I hope he’s not a typical child.

What bugged me the most, however, was the lengthy conversations full of small talk. Perhaps they are realistic, but one doesn’t expect real-life dialogues in books. I found myself skimming regularly when people greeted each other and asked after each other’s families and so on…with almost nothing that added to the story or built character in any way.

On the plus point, there’s not a whole lot of bad language, no violence, and no explicit scenes. Moreover, although at first I had to keep flicking back to check which sister was which, their characters did eventually develop somewhat, and I kept reading to find out what was going to happen. The ending works well, with one part I hadn’t expected.

Not recommended if you care about character-based women’s fiction, but if you don’t mind rather flat people and don’t object to lengthy conversations, it’s a pleasant and undemanding story that's competently planned and written.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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