Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell


Written by: Rainbow Rowell

Published: 2014

Synopsis: Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

“He kissed her like he was drawing a perfectly straight line. He kissed her in India ink.”

Every time I finish a Rainbow Rowell novel I try to rank them, from favourite to most favourite. Do I love the 90s rom-com quality of Attachments best? The Harry Potter slash fic in Fangirl? The beauty of Eleanor and Park finding themselves in each other? But each time I try and come to a conclusion I realise how impossible a feat it is. I love all of them and all the parts that make them so similar and so different.

When I finished Landline I had the same internal discussion. Ultimately I came to same decision, but just for a moment I thought "yes, I think perhaps this is my favourite". Like the others it made my heart both ache and well with happiness. Like the earlier three novels, the characters are wonderfully flawed and live off the page. But unlike the other novels, this one isn't about new love. It's about a love that's gone through the whirlwind phase and is in danger of evaporating. It's the potential future for all of the characters from the previous three books, and that is why I thought, for a hot minute, that this might be my favourite Rainbow Rowell novel.

Because of this I felt like this novel was more depressing, more bound in sadness. But that's really standard for a Rowell novel. No one in her novels has had an easy life, they're insular, outside the ebb and flow of regular society. And then they find that thing, that person, that makes all of that loneliness vanish. But everything in this novel is flipped on its head. The characters still start the novel feeling separate from the rest of the world, but they aren't lacking love and they aren't lacking a clear direction. They have careers and a family and they've been together for nearly 20 years. So after three novels of falling in love with characters who fall madly in love just as Georgie and Neal did, Landline makes you question everything you've previously read. If Georgie and Neal didn't have enough love to keep things together, does that mean Eleanor and Park are doomed? That Beth and Lincoln will tread the same path to unhappiness?

In spite of this, this is still undeniably a Rainbow Rowell novel. They may be having problems, but things aren't hopeless. Or at least, Georgie is willing to try and make what seems hopeless right again. And in a way, there's a typical Rainbow book within the atypical Rainbow book. After a separation (Neal takes the kids to visit his mum in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie stays in LA to work on a life-changing career opportunity) Georgie tries to get in contact with Neal, to fix their fractured marriage. But what she actually finds is a link to the past. Her mother's home line links not to the Omaha of 2014 but Omaha 17 years earlier, when Neal had returned home after breaking up with her the first time. In this part of the novel, with older Georgie talking to younger Neal, we get our more traditional Rainbow novel. We hear about how they fell in love, the madness and inescapability of it. We see them navigate each other cautiously, we see them bounce off each other and rub each other the wrong way. You end up with that silly smile that you always get when you read a Rainbow novel. You sigh over her innate ability to write about moments that seem like they should be impossible to write. You fall in love with the love she draws on the page.
“Neal didn't take Georgie's breath away. Maybe the opposite. But that was okay--that was really good, actually, to be near someone who filled your lungs with air.”
Then there's the other part of the novel. Where everything you've read is thrown into question. Yes their young love is beautiful and sigh-inducing. But is it realistic? Is it sustainable?                                                        
         “You don't know when you're twenty-three. 
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three.”
I loved Rainbow before, but I think I love her even more now. It's as though Landline has added a new dimension to her writing which not only transformed this book into something magnificent, but retrospectively added a whole new side to her previous books too. More than anything though, it makes me unbelievably excited to see where she goes next.


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