Thursday, 22 October 2015

'Landline' by Rainbow Rowell

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Pretty soon she'd have been with Neal longer than she'd been without him. She'd know herself as his wife better than she'd ever known herself as anyone else. It felt like too much. Not too much to have, just too much to contemplate. Commitments like boulders that were too heavy to carry.'

Georgie McCool is living the dream. She's a sitcom writer, and her best friend and writing partner Seth has just told her that their own original TV show, 'Passing Time', has been picked up by a TV network. The catch? That they need to write the scripts for four episodes by December 27th, and it's already December 17th.
Georgie was meant to be going to Omaha with her husband, Neal, and their two children. When she tells him she wants to stay in Los Angeles, he argues with her - it's Christmas, the kids need their mother, the plane is already booked - but when she insists on staying he goes without her. Since they got married they've hardly spent any time apart, especially not on bad terms, so Georgie is at a loose end. Visiting her mother, she decides to try to phone Neal to fix their argument, but when she plugs in her old yellow rotary phone she's startled to get hold of Neal... back in 1998, in the week after their very first argument, the week when Neal decided he wanted to propose to her.
Georgie isn't sure what the universe is asking her to do. Is she supposed to save her marriage, or make it so that it never happened in the first place? What will happen to their children, Alice and Noomi, if they never got married? And why the hell is her telephone suddenly magical?
It's such a simple concept, but it's so beautifully executed that I can't fault this novel. Rainbow Rowell has such a skill for writing contemporaries, and I think this is the best book of hers that I've read so far. The timeline makes it a very fast read, because it all happens in the space of a week, and while there isn't much action that goes on the character development is on point. I think part of the reason for this is because we live Georgie and Neal's entire relationship through flashbacks, seeing their first meeting, their engagement, their wedding and the birth of their children in the space of a few hundred pages. It makes it impossible not to love the characters, because you do feel as though you've been with them their entire lives - it's funny, but it's true. It makes the marriage seem much more realistic, as well. We don't just join them when they take a break and try to work out what went wrong, we actually get to see their entire history play out in front of our eyes: the ups and downs, the arguments and the reunions. 
Rainbow's writing is very unique; I don't think I've read another writer like her. There are entire pages that are just dialogue, with no description, but because of how lifelike the characters are, and how well they interact with each other, it flies past and sucks you into their conversation - at points it feels like watching TV instead of reading, because you can see everything happening so vividly and you can imagine the characters reactions. The ensemble cast are all necessary, and there isn't a character that doesn't have their uses: Georgie's best friend, Seth, and work colleague, Scotty, add the comic relief to what does become an emotionally fraught novel at times, while Georgie's family remind us that no matter how good your life is, you should never neglect the people who raised you.
'Landline' asks so many beautiful questions as well. If you could use a telephone to contact the past, what would you do? Would you attempt to mess with the fabric of time by warning them about any of the catastrophic world events that had occurred, or would you just try to relive your younger days and make the most out of simple, small interactions? If you did mess with the timeline too badly, if Georgie's phone calls with Neal had resulted in him not proposing, what would happen to your kids? It definitely makes you think twice about the kind of big ideas you might get when discussing the possibility of contacting the past.
Georgie's reaction to the phone was probably my favourite thing. She doesn't take it easily - she freaks the hell out, nearly has a nervous breakdown and is terrified of the developments going on in her life. She tries the phone multiple times, thinking that it's definitely all a figment of her imagination, and she's not one of those characters who goes into a crazy situation without a care in the world. Georgie is so easy to relate to, and she's certainly one of my favourite characters of all time, because she's so natural.
I thought the paradoxical nature of the phone itself was very intriguing, even if it didn't surprise me. With Georgie ruminating on the fact that Neal has only ignored her once before - during the week that she's talking to him - and knowing that she never really knew why he proposed... I wasn't surprised at all when it turned out that the phone calls had already happened for Neal, and they were the reason for him fixing their relationship. It brings a whole new meaning to the term "meant to be", if your future self and your partner's past self are fixing your relationship then and now. It did make it interesting that that was how it happened, though. Because their marriage broke down, Georgie managed to save their relationship in the past, and due to saving their relationship in the past she decided to try harder in the future - it was inspirational, despite the fact that it was quite a simple connection across times.
I thought the idea of soulmates as a concept throughout the novel was very well used: because of the universe, in the shape of a bright yellow phone, interfering in Georgie and Neal's arguments, it makes you feel as though there was some kind of higher power at work to make things right with them. Georgie remembers a time when Neal called her and Seth soulmates, and when she actually thought that it might be true - she was in love with Seth for many years during college, before she met Neal - but when Seth admits that he might have feelings for her she realises that she can't feel that way about him. This is yet another facet that makes the novel much more realistic - instead of the romance movie, "I'm so glad we finally found each other, never let me go!" moment, Georgie kept a level-head, knew that she loved her husband and her family and knew what the right thing was in the situation she found herself in. This book could have had a love triangle, but Rainbow knew it wasn't necessary, and it definitely wouldn't have made sense if there was one.
The week this book is set in is the week over Christmas, so if you haven't read 'Landline' yet, make sure you get around to it this winter!

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