Malachy Doyle grew up in Ireland, has spent 20-odd years in Wales, and now lives and writes on ‘a tiny island off the coast of Donegal’. As one of his two heroes, Marcus O’Malley, thinks to himself: ‘Two small countries… so many differences’. Marcus is in a tricky spot and needs to spot those differences rapidly. He’s from Dublin but now finds himself in ‘Aberwhisswiss’ (the real name is too much) with the wrong mother, starting the wrong school and being chatted up by the wrong girl. It’s his own fault. He and his new-found friend, Huw Davies, meet on holiday on the west coast of Ireland. They are, as others have pointed out, ‘the perfect spit’. So, just for a laugh, and a bet, and ‘to see how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes’, they swap parents and siblings and accommodation – the lot. First one rumbled, loses the bet. The trouble is, late that evening, Huw’s mum gets news of a family illness back home and drives off across Ireland in her camper van with Marcus bedded down fast asleep. He wakes up to a new life about to board the ferry for Holyhead.
To enjoy this book, it’s probably best to see it like a TV sitcom which couldn’t possibly happen though it would be fun if it did. Forget the ‘but-ifs’, since Swap shatters rather than suspends disbelief. Doyle makes much of language differences – he enjoys his characters playing around with ‘eejits’ and ‘twpsins’ and so on; and he indulges himself a little in a lengthy section in which they compare numbers from one to ten in the two languages. There are other differences. Marcus lives in a big house with a large family at war with itself; while Huw and his Mum just about make ends meet but are relaxed and loving together. Since Huw is more confident than Marcus, there’s also some fun with interested girls on both sides of the Irish Sea, who are naturally puzzled by the sudden changes in personality – each boy emerges a little wiser from these encounters.
Light and easy, then, but an entertaining foray into playing the Supposing… game.