Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses
"When Philip Swallow and Professor Morris Zapp participate in their universities' Anglo-American exchange scheme, the Fates play a hand, and each academic finds himself enmeshed in the life of his counterpart on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Nobody is immune to the exchange: students, colleagues, even wives are swapped as events spiral out of control. And soon both sundrenched Euphoric State university and rain-kissed university of Rummidge are a hotbed of intrigue, lawlessness and broken vows..."
This novel has been on my to read list longer than any other, I first heard about it through a video blogger friend around about 2008 and, interested in it’s use of different writing styles for each chapter, added it to my Amazon wishlist where it remained up until a few months ago. It became one of those books would constantly see on my list, think “I should get around to reading that soon”, but just never buy. Finally after having a little spare cash to clear off my list I picked it up, and I’m so glad I did.
The book tells the tale of two English literature professors, one from England, the other from the USA, who embark on an annual exchange project ran by their respective universities. Professor Swallow from England finds himself in the luxurious campus of the State of Euphoria University, while the American Professor Zapp, finds himself in the dull brickwork of Rummidge.
Both characters and settings in this book are over exaggerated clichés but that’s part of its charm. Zapp is a brash, overbearing American in a quiet, slightly run down, rain soaked English city, while Swallow is quiet and reserved, fairly inexperienced, living in a gleaming utopic city in the throws of the hippie movement. This culture clash is the subject of much of the books humour as the two characters struggle to adapt to their new surroundings.
While three of the chapters are told in traditional prose, the book also makes use of several different writing styles, one chapter is told as a series of letters between the various characters, another a selection of radio excerpts and newspaper clippings ad the final chapter is presented as a film script.
These differing styles are interesting but I was left not really understanding why they were used. The chapter made of letters is the best of the bunch, the writing styles and personalities of each character shone through and I felt very engaged in the story. The chapter formed from newspaper clippings however, I found very hard to follow and ended up missing some of the info it was intended to convey.
This left to the book feeling like a bit of a mixed bag and, while the mix of styles helped speed up the pace of the book, at times it felt a little unnecessary.
The book is very funny, though I must admit, I didn’t find it as hilarious as others seemed too, that said I enjoyed every character greatly, each providing several amusing moments, with the coincidences that dog the experiences of Swallow and Zapp being the best of the bunch.
It was a novel I thoroughly enjoyed and read through very quickly, however I didn’t fall in love with it in the way I’d expected. It’s a light read and a lot of fun, but lacks slightly in weight, it’s unlikely to stay with you too long. That said, I’d happily read it again, and look forward to picking up the sequel…hopefully after a much shorter time period than it took me to pick up this one…