The Switch: A Novel

Image of The Switch: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 28, 2024
Pamela Dorman Books
Reviewed by: 

“succeeds thanks to Samson’s finely rendered characterizations and twists that are believable yet impossible to predict.”

There’s a moment in Lily Samson’s The Switch, shortly before the story surges toward its nightmarish apex, when a woman stabs her partner’s hand with a fork at an upscale café in London’s Wimbledon Village. There’s sharp pain but no blood because she’s far too controlled to make a big scene, yet it’s a chilling indication of her unanticipated rage after encouraging her best friend to have a night of amazing sex with him.

The incident occurs many chapters after the story’s initial set-up—a shaky premise whereby the two women, Elena and Sophia, engineer a plan to swap husbands for an hour of passion without telling the men what’s happening. Samson creates a lot of suspense as she spells out how they set it up, with the aid of pitch-dark bedrooms, a swapping of perfumes, and minimal vocalizing during the seductions to lessen the probability the men will be aware of the switch.

Many will doubt the plausibility of that scheme and might even Google “black-out shades” as they question whether any room could be darkened to the point where the men don’t realize they’re sharing their beds with women who aren’t their wives. Fortunately, the luckiest readers will suspend that disbelief long enough to be mesmerized by this nicely written tale, which succeeds thanks to Samson’s finely rendered characterizations and twists that are believable yet impossible to predict.

The tale is structured like many domestic thrillers, with chapters alternating between present tense for what’s happening now and past tense for the compelling backstory. That point-of-view choice enables each woman to come to life in a believable way while sharply contrasting their circumstances.

Elena, who narrates the earliest chapters, is insecure about many things: The power dynamics that come from being a part time freelancer while her husband Adam’s career and breadwinner status takes center stage. The stress of being openly disdained by her mother in-law. And, through Samson’s evocative writing, the feeling that she’s not nearly as beautiful or charming as her new friend Sophia, a glamourous and financially secure woman who comes up with the husband-swapping plan.

Readers know the relationship is fraught with emotional dangers due to the uneven power dynamics and the ways Samson ramps up the tension between the women. And, as in most stories about infidelity, regrets quickly evolve into a sense of danger and impending violence, as shown in this nicely done passage following Elena’s first tryst with Sophia’s husband Finn:

“Finn has shattered all my cynicism. He’s proven that the fantasy can come true—only my prince is already married and has no idea of what we’ve shared. I don’t think it was the dark or the danger that bonded us. We have chemistry of a kind that is once in a lifetime. But now what? I keep looking at that photo of him online; the firework whoosh inside never fails to accompany it. This morning I sneaked onto their road and watched him kiss Sophia goodbye . . . I don’t want to break dear Adam’s heart. I don’t want to disrupt a marriage and I have a feeling Sophia would cut me to pieces if I tried. She’s happy to loan me her husband but she certainly doesn’t want to lose him.”

The story entertains through other venues as well. Much of the action takes place at a resort on the coast of France where the two couples go on vacation. It’s an opportunity for Sophia and her husband to reconnect with people from the past who may or may not have been involved in a murder, which sends the narrative into gothic directions that deepen the intrigue about who Sophia and Finn really are, why they’re together, and their true intentions toward Elena and Adam.

The final revelation is wonderful, and like every good twist, it’s almost impossible to predict and solid proof of Samson’s ability to send readers into a maze of intrigue that lands at a surprising—and heartfelt—destination.