Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

DSCF1390I’ve heard a lot of great things about Rainbow Rowell from a lot of different people,  all of which sang her praises. Hers was a distinctive name which kept cropping up continuously, along with the cover of her books. I could say that eventually these repetitive reappearances influenced the depths of my subconscious, but in all honest I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about for myself. So, after picking up two books in a three for £10 deal, I found myself taking advantage of the chance to add a third. Whilst Rowell’s most popular books seems to be Fangirl and Eleanor and Parks, the book I bought was Landline.

Landline centres upon Georgie McCool (another unusual name), a woman whose busy working life consists of writing TV shows. Married, with two young children, it’s fair to say that Georige’s hectic working schedule can often interfere with her family life, as is the case when the novel opens. Yet, when a landline phone from Georgie’s youth makes a reappearance, she is faced with an unbelievable opportunity – the chance to not visit, but to call the past . . .and maybe even change it.

Georgie’s family dynamics in relation to her husband and children are established very quickly, and one of the things which I loved about this book was the way in which the gender assigned roles are subverted. As a woman, most people would assume that Georgie would be the one to raise the children, when in fact it is her husband, Neal, who gives up his job to stay at home with them.  I really enjoy things like this which call attention to the fact that men are just as able to raise their children whilst being grounded within the domestic sphere. What’s great is that rather than struggling to get by, Neal is thriving as a devoted father who does everything (including hair styles) for his children. His wife even admits at one point that if it came to it, he would get custody of the kids. In reality it is Georgie, the one who is able to escape domesticity, who is struggling and perhaps suffering for her working attitude. What this produces are varied dynamics which explore different ideas surrounding the theme of family.

As for the writing itself, Rowell is a very comfortable writer, by which I mean that this book is extremely accessible and not highly literary. Her writing is very straightforward, not being flowery or descriptive, but very much to the point. That’s not to say it is a bad thing; whilst I love literary fiction I also enjoying cleansing the palette which something which can require less concentration, and this is definitely one of those books. I read it in two sittings, which is a testament to the ease of which it requires.

What worked really well for me personally in this book was what the phone itself represented. Looking beyond the magical realism, it was fascinating to view the phone as a device to install the question of what if. I have always been interested by the ideas of fate and destiny, and whether the choices we make as individuals affect the outcome of our lives, or whether it can all be considered as predetermined by a greater power. At one point, Georgie realises how ‘the way everything she was ever going to be from then on was irrevocably tethered to that day, that decision’ (p. 241). Through the phone, Georgie is able to explore her past, and potentially change moments in time, effectively getting some sort of answers to the what ifs throughout her life, specifically where her husband is concerned.

On reflection, the bits of this novel which I found most gripping were the parts where Georgie looks back upon how she met her husband, and how their relationship develped. These moments felt the most real, as if they had the most heart, and I felt that some of the moments between them were very touching. It was very interesting to consider how they developed into a coherent unit. These were definitely the parts where we got to know and understand the characters the most, with many parts in the future seeming to almost flag in comparison. Not only did changing the time frame allow me to get to know the characters gradually as they developed, but it also reflected the way that the two of them also gradually became involved with each other. Whilst I have said that many of the scenes in the future did not have quite the same impact, this could also be a clever technique to show how far the couple have come from the freedom of their youth and how close they once felt.

As you would expect from the book’s blurb, there is romance in here, but it is not the over the top, overly affectionate kind, and is it not graphic. Because of the way in which their relationship has developed, the idea of marriage is often examined. As someone who has been in a long term relationship for a long time, this paragraph struck me very much:

‘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’ (p. 241)

I think anyone in a committed relationship will see how authentic this is, how two people can become so interdependent on each other that often the individuals are somewhat lost in the process. If we’re lucky, we’ll never have to separate from that codependent unit.

This novel was a strange one for me, as even with quite honest moments, I was still left with the overall feeling that I had not taken much away from it. In a way, the book does not have a strong plot as such. Whilst this can often be the case for more literary books which often have a complicated subject matter, I felt that here it was almost as if everything was too easy, with no real definitive plot points to guide the way. It is an incredibly easy read, and whilst I found it lacking somewhat in substance, it was still an enjoyable one. Overall, I just wanted more; more complexity, more characterisation, more plot. I can see why people like Rainbow Rowell, and I am definitely interested in picking up another of her more popular books to compare.

What did you think of Landline? Can anyone recommend which of her books I should read next?

Publisher: Orion

Rating: 3*/5*

 

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