“But I had set something in motion that I couldn’t stop.”
Told through the voices of several characters, Robyn Harding’s novel, The Swap is set on an island in the Pacific Northwest. The island, which is known for its “free-love culture” attracts certain types: hippies, holiday makers and people looking for a fresh start. In the latter category, we have Freya Light, a diminutive blonde “social media influencer” and former Instagram star who has now returned to pottery making in the wake of a scandal. Her husband, professional hockey player, Max paralyzed another player with an illegal hit on the playing field. With Max’s career in ruins and Freya coming under fire from social media, the couple move to the island and settle into their gorgeous, waterfront property.
Also looking for a fresh start are Jamie and Brian. He’s a former school teacher, now YA fantasy writer and she opens a small gift shop. They are trying to cope with the prospect of never having a child and they are also trying to forget the humiliation of being so desperate for a child, they were scammed for 1000s.
So two very different couples here: Freya and Max and Jamie and Brian. …
Into the two couple mix, add Low (Swallow), a lonely, awkward teenage girl, the product of a polymorphous household. Low sees Freya and is enchanted. But enchantment leads to obsession. Obsession would be dangerous enough all on its own, but Freya is a narcissist, she only wants relationships with people who are willing to idolize her. She plays favourites, using people like toilet roll, and while she picks Low as a friend, she’s also ready to drop her when Jamie shows interest.
None of the characters here are likable. Freya is a monster, and it’s interesting that the introduction talks about Low being manipulative when Freya outclasses everyone. Low’s obsession with Freya becomes dangerous when Freya casually dumps Low in favour of Jamie, and this leads to Low spying on all four adults for .. yes.. you guessed it … a ‘swap.’
I love stories about people who blow up their lives–especially if those lives are decent. In this case, the marriages of the two couples are not healthy, and at first Freya finds the gaps, and then Low takes up the slack.
This is a highly readable novel. I disliked the ending, but that might just be me. Some of my favourite sections include members of Low’s unconventional household trying to remonstrate with her about being ‘normal.’ Oh the irony. The characters of the women are well done, while the men are a little weak (in more ways than one). Freya is a black hole in space when it comes to attention, so the more she gets, the worse and more outrageous she becomes. Her egotistical pursuit of internet fame and followers highlight her superficiality, and since opening up one’s private life to the world will inevitably bring criticism, someone who wants 100% worship (no haters) will come a cropper on social media In today’s world, it’s easy for people to post a few carefully chosen pictures to portray the image they want people to have of their lives. Everyone can be a celebrity. In Freya’s case, she wants people to worship her, envy her, and emulate her, but with Freya, media attention is like crack to the addict, and so she inevitably spins out of control.
On a side note: with the internet, it seems hard to imagine that someone would have failed to sniff out the ‘rat’ that Low discovers in Freya and Max’s past.