Life Swap Paperback – Aug 1 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
This fun but familiar novel from Green (The Other Woman) follows the seemingly perfect lives of two women—one married with children, one single with a high-powered job—who wish to see how the other half lives, only to have the misfortune to get what they wish for. When Amber Winslow, a wealthy Connecticut housewife replete with wealthy husband, full-time nanny and golden retriever, grows tired of her town's vicious social scene, she responds to British magazine Poise!'s search for a subject to swap lives with one of the magazine's London editors, Vicky Townsley. Serious and successful, Vicky is longing for the husband and children she doesn't have. While both women leave home on a yellow-brick-road quest to find the missing piece of their lives—a sense of purpose for Amber, a suitable mate for Vicky—what they find instead is the saccharine obvious: they already have everything they really want. Green's latest, like her more inspired ventures, is hard to put down, thanks to affable leading characters and interesting, if not particularly revealing, commentary on the cross-Atlantic cultural gap. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Reality shows and contests are a hot topic for fiction these days, and Green (The Other Woman, 2005) is the latest writer to jump on the bandwagon. Green's vehicle is a Poise! magazine contest that gives a married woman the opportunity to switch places with Poise! features director Vicky Townsley, who at 35 is professionally fulfilled but unhappy that she's not yet found a man. She's hoping she may have met the one in Jamie Donnelly, a handsome Irish comedian who has a reputation as a womanizer. Across the pond in Highfield, Connecticut, Amber Winslow has what seems like the perfect life with her husband, Richard, and her two adorable children. But Amber is tired of keeping up with her competitive friends, and she sends a letter in to Poise! never expecting to win. Readers probably won't be surprised that Vicky and Amber learn to appreciate their own lives thanks to the switch, but they will enjoy watching Green peel the layers of the women's lives back, highlighting that both women have issues they need to change and others they need to accept. Green is a popular chick-lit writer, so expect demand. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Vicky is 35, has a job as Features Editor at Poise Magazine in London, and seems to have the perfect single life. Deep down, however, she's unhappy. She wants to be married, to have the comfort and safety of a large country home.
On the other side of the pond is Amber, a housewife in Connecticuit who keeps being compared to the characters from Desperate Housewives. She's married to a Wall Street broker and has two children, and spends her free time doing events for the local Ladies' League. She also has a huge wardrobe full of designer clothes. Her life, too seems perfect. But Amber is tired of keeping up with the Joneses, and wants to have a taste of what its like to be single again.
And idea is hatched: Poise will hold a Life Swap, in which Vicky will switch lives with a housewife for a month. She'll wear the women's clothes and do all the tings the housewife would normally do. When none of the candidates from England proove to be acceptable, Vicky responds to a letter from Amber--and ends up falling in love, briefly, with the life she leads. Therein follows a string of interesting occurences in which Vicky tries to be the typical American housewife and mother and Amber attempts to live the life of a single woman in London--in the process fending off Vicky's old admirers.
This book had several major flaws. First of all, it took until more than halfway through the book for the swap to actually occur. Jane Green kept setting the mood for more than 200 pages, pages that could have been devoted more to the experiences the women have when they switch. Also, Vicky and Amber decide, after all of this and only two weeks in their new lives, to switch back again! After all the energy that was put into building the characters, there's this anticlimax that is disappointing. The subject of this book is rehashed material and the ending is predictable; the women find that they prefer their own lives, after all. Jane Green should stick to writing about single girls--even though, as a mother of four, I suspect that getting into that mindset would be difficult. However, Green's earlier books were much more fun to read.
This goes doubly for Amber. The character was a prime opportunity for Green to dissect what goes on in the head of a woman caught up in this lifestyle but she pretty much throws the opportunity away. Amber felt pretty two-dimensional to me in general. She was symbolic of the woman who comes from nothing, marries for money, and then loses herself in the competition to prove that she is more affluent than the rest, but that's it. The reader never gets a real feel for what's going on in Amber's head, of what her hopes and dreams once were. Green makes her seem mercenary when describing how Amber pursued her husband but then tries to soften this so that Amber doesn't totally sound like a gold digger. It's not really effective and to me it didn't make sense, given that Amber was supposedly ambitious and had her own successful career.
As for Vicky, I also found her to be a rather stereotypical character. The clubbing, drinking single girl really has been done to death and it would have been nice to see a character who broke out of this mold a bit. I could understand Vicky's worry that she would be alone for the rest of her life but she mostly came across as desperate. She was also very judgmental when it came to men and I didn't think this was entirely realistic for a woman who is supposedly so consumed with worry about not finding a mate for life.
All in all, this novel was a pretty typical work of chick lit and I found that disappointing. I read Jemima J several years ago and really liked how Green got into the head of her character. I don't think I'll be in a rush to read more from the author.
Put this book back on the shelf, unclick it from your shopping, cart, return it to the library, save your self some time, and read Baby Proof or Something Borrowed/Something Blue.
And you, Jane Green, start writing witty novels again!
Yes, this book is a little predictable, and the characters don't have tremendous depth - certainly not as much as some of Green's characters in earlier books. But what Green did really well in this book was to make the reader see how Vicky and Amber both got into the positions they're in today - a successful but single woman who longs for a family (Vicky), and a happily married woman with two children who, despite being caught up in the social climbing ridiculousness that surrounds the women in her town, loathes her own lifestyle (Amber).
While I had a hard time understanding why Vicky and Amber didn't make more proactive choices in their own lives, and while I had a hard time relating to the desire to actually swap lives with someone else, I thought Green stayed true to her typical M.O. - fun, easy to read books with likable characters and a satisfying ending.