Book Review: The Swiss Affair

Book Review: The Swiss Affair by Emylia Hall

The Swiss AffairHadley Dunn has lived a mostly ordinary life in her small English town, and has been mostly happy. But when she stumbles into an opportunity to spend her second year of university in Lausanne, Switzerland, she envisions a whole new chapter opening up for her. From her first moments in Lausanne, Hadley is enchanted and inspired. The beautiful scenery, the sophisticated people, the sense of wonder and elegance every where she looks — Hadley is ready for magic and for love, and for a time, it seems that she’s found both.

Living in the university residence hall, Hadley meets the beautiful and vivacious Kristina and the two become instant best friends. Together, they ramble the hills and lakefront, explore bars and nightclubs, soak in the beauty and all that Lausanne has to offer. The only dark cloud is a secret Kristina keeps about an illicit love affair, one that she can’t quite explain to Hadley. Still, the year is beautiful and perfect — until a terrible accident destroys it all.

Devastated, Hadley turns for comfort to her enigmatic, handsome American Literature professor, who has seemed smitten with Hadley since day one, and to a kind, old-world elderly gentleman who sees something in Hadley that she doesn’t quite understand. Between these two men, Hadley uncovers secrets and truths, gains insight into her own wants and needs, and bit by bit pieces together both the events of the past and the keys to her present.

In The Swiss Affair, the city of Lausanne is practically a character in its own right. The author lovingly describes its nooks and crannies, the feel of the air, the view of the mountains across the lake, the way the light changes over the course of a year. The people, the cafes and bars, the hilly streets — all are described in vivid detail, so alive that you can just about feel the city as you read.

Hadley herself is an engaging and intelligent young woman, experiencing her first moments of independence and adulthood outside the confines of her home town and her family’s house. Her experiences as she enters the world of a chic Swiss town and a foreign university are so recognizable — anyone who has ventured far from home as a college student will remember the sensations so aptly described here, the wonder and freedom of it all.

In finding Kristina, Hadley finds a kindred spirit and an inspiration as well, the perfect college best friend who both “gets” you and pushes you into unknown territory. In too many novels, the shy or plain main character lives in the orbit of a more exotic, shimmering best friend. I initially thought that’s what we’d get in The Swiss Affair — but I was glad to realize that I was mistaken. Kristina is original and enchanting — but so is Hadley. Hadley is smart, eager, ready for the world, and open to adventures. Her loyalty to her friend, even after tragedy strikes, is what propels her forward and ultimately, what gives her strength for everything that she must face later on.

The love story also seems, at first, to be following in the well-trod footsteps of dozens of other stories — young college girl falling under the spell of the handsome, aloof, charismatic professor, entering into a world of scandal. Well, in The Swiss Affair, this is true, but it’s not the whole picture. Joel Wilson is handsome and charismatic, but his relationship with Hadley takes unexpected turns, and it’s often hard to know what to make of him, yet easy to see how Hadley has become so infatuated so quickly.

The plot twists and turns, and deftly throws some major curves our way. Just when I was patting myself on the back for figuring everything out, the author abruptly pulled the rug out from under me — more than once! I was kept guessing throughout the story, and that kept me reading obsessively way past my bedtime.

My only quibble, and it’s minor, is that it was hard at first to place this novel in time. I started out unsure whether this was a contemporary novel or perhaps set at some point several decades earlier. There are very few clues in the story. For a story set among college students, there were only a few references to mobile phones or the internet, and it wasn’t until these technologies were mentioned that I figured out the “when” of The Swiss Affair. To be honest, while a minor point, this did take a small bit of reality away from the story, as it was a bit hard to believe that these characters wouldn’t be constantly carrying phones, doing research online, etc. In fact, without the rare mentions of mobiles and the internet, this story could just as easily have been set in the 1950s without further alteration.

That issue aside, I found The Swiss Affair to be interesting, moving, and hard to put down. I cared about the characters, and loved the descriptions of Lausanne. The author makes us feel as though we’re walking through the pure air of this Swiss city while reading the book, and I felt it to be an immersive and engaging read. Highly recommended as a coming-of-age story, a glimpse of life in a lovely setting, a love story, and a mystery — The Swiss Affair has something for everyone.

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The details:

Title: The Swiss Affair
Author: Emylia Hall
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of Harlequin MIRA via NetGalley

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