I’ve heard so many good things about Rainbow Rowell lately, and after this book won the Goodreads Choice 2014, I decided I had to give it a go. And, after all the hype I have to admit I felt that the book started out fairly slowly, and the writing was average. This book is pure chick-lit – a genre I don’t read very often – and maybe I’d expected a little too much from it. But I needed something light and cheerful after just finishing Stephen King’s Revival, so I ploughed on with an open mind and, after getting over my initial disappointment, I have to admit I got sucked into the story and swept up in the romance of the tale.
Georgie and Neal’s marriage comes to breaking point close to Christmas. They had planned to spend the festive season in Omaha with Neal’s family and their two children, but at the last minute Georgie lands a lucrative opportunity in her work as a comedy writer, and has to stay home over Christmas to work on a show with her best friend, Seth. So Neal takes the children and goes home for Christmas, leaving Georgie to spend the holiday without her family.
Even though Georgie insists to those around her that the Christmas separation is simply a perfunctory arrangement made for convenience, deep down she knows it’s more than that. She feels her husband is slipping away from her. She tries to get in touch with him to reconcile their relationship, but instead stumbles across a “magical fucking phone” which allows her to speak to Neal in the past.
The element of the magic phone makes for something a little different. It’s another of the reasons I picked the book up in the first place; when done well, romance weaved with a little fantasy can be a real treat. But at it’s heart, this book is all about the relationships; the phone simply acts as a device to bridge together past and present; a tool which asks the reader if you had the chance, would you change the past? In present day, Georgie and Neal’s relationship is stale, and Georgie wonders whether the opportunity has been presented to help her fix her marriage, or erase it altogether. But as she speaks to a younger Neal, less jaded by the stress of their present-day lives, she begins to remember why she fell in love with him in the first place.
The book moves between present day and flashbacks to their relationship’s formative years. I think the flashbacks to their early relationship were probably my favourite parts of the book – Georgie and Neal are young and naive, they fall in love hard and they move fast, with none of the apprehension or anxiety of their older selves.
“You don’t know when you are 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.”
Rowell doesn’t only capture young romance well, but she captures the disillusioned, embittered nature of a marriage on the rocks too. Present-day Georgie is realising that love isn’t always enough, that she is to blame at least as much as Neal “Because she wanted him more than she wanted him to be happy.” Rowell illustrates perfectly how the years can eat away at that young hope, even when the love remains.
“It’s like you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping that you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with the ball.”
I guess Landline was a mixed bag for me – it’s cheesy, but it’s also poignant and surprisingly realistic in places. I didn’t realise before I started this novel that it was set around the festive season, and culminates on Christmas Day. This kind of explains its Goodreads award – I think everyone was just feeling full of festive love. This is the perfect novel to read around Christmas – it’s not groundbreaking, but it’ll leave you with the warm, fuzzy feeling that a holiday romance should.