Wednesday 16 July 2014

#CBR6 Book 73: "Landline" by Rainbow Rowell

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 5 stars

I don't actually have the words to properly summarise the plot for this book, because I have so many feelings about it. Formulating them is going to be difficult enough. So I'm going to take the easy way out, and rely on the blurb:

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 beside 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 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?

It's not secret to anyone who reads my reviews that I love Rainbow Rowell's writing. So to say that my expectations for this book were high, is a gross understatement. There are certain authors where I clear my entire schedule for their new books. I was lucky enough that this book came out during the summer holidays, the best time of the year to be a teacher. No lesson planning, no grading, no endless essay correction - just long days of indulgent reading. So I was able to devote myself properly to reading the book. I was a bit wary, because having read the blurb as soon as it was available, it was clear that this was going to be a more serious book, with a fairly painful subject. Eleanor & Park nearly broke my heart because I felt so strongly for the characters. A novel about a marriage in real trouble didn't exactly sound like a fun read.

Let's just say that I'm so glad I didn't read this book about three and a bit years ago, when my own marriage was going through a serious rough patch. This book would have destroyed me utterly. In this book, we get to see Georgie's present, but also how she and Neal met, and little glimpses into their married life together. As Rowell does so brilliantly, she shows us how they gradually fall in love, and how they ended up married, despite being vastly different people, with different goals and aspirations. Because Rowell writes such achingly realistic characters, we share her concerns and worries. We are given a chance to understand why she so desperately wants her new television show, and is willing to possibly risk her marriage to stay in Los Angeles to write scripts to show the network exec. We see how her writing partner and best friend is hugely important to her life, but that Neal is clearly the cornerstone who grounds and fuels her.

Being fully aware of your own flaws, and feeling like you are constantly disappointing and possibly even hurting the person you love most in your life is a terrible thing. Thinking that that person may, in fact, be better off without you, that their hopes and dreams and aspirations might be better fulfilled if you hadn't dragged them into the life they share with you now. It's all there in this book, Georgie is nothing if not honest with herself. She can rarely make herself go back to her big empty house after working on her show, so stays with her mother and stepfather instead. In her old room, on a old-fashioned, bright yellow rotary phone, she appears to be able to call a different Neal in Omaha, one who is home for Christmas after a brief break-up they had in college. At the end of a week apart way back then, Neal showed up on Georgie's doorstep and proposed. Now Georgie is wondering if she should try to convince Neal that he's better off without her instead.

I met my own husband when I was at University in Scotland. He was 19, I was 21. In November of this year, we'll have been together for fourteen years. We recently celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. I've spent more than a third of my life with this man, and while I am clearly much more the Neal in our relationship, the one that takes care of the practical, everyday matters, who is the less creative, pragmatic and grounded one - I so understood and recognised Georgie's doubts, guilt, fear and pain. When we were having trouble, because moving in with and then marrying your first boyfriend/girlfriend doesn't come without it's fair share of complications as well, so much of what goes through Georgie's head, went through my own.

In Attachments, the e-mails that Beth and Jennifer constantly send each other at work reminded me so strongly of my friendship with my best friend Lydia, who I got to know through letters. In Fangirl, I recognised so much of my own social anxiety, fear and difficulty to adjust during my first year away at University, being far away from home for the first time, in my case, in a foreign country, suddenly having to re-shape myself to fit into a vastly different education system from what I was used to. In this, I can see so much of what my husband and I went through before we came through our troubles stronger, better and much better at communicating and respecting each other. I suspect one of the reasons I adore Rowell's writing so much is that it seems to speak directly to me. I'm clearly not alone in loving her. I don't think a single Cannonball reviewer who has read her books rates any of them under 4 stars, and we're a wildly diverse bunch with extremely differing tastes. So she seems to have a fairly universal appeal, which fills me with joy. I gift her books to all my friends, hoping to share the awesome.

I haven't even said anything about the amazing way Rowell has with words, and the many quotes I highlighted and wanted to read out loud to myself. The way the book, as with all her others, sucked me in and made me feel as I was actually living and breathing with the characters. It made me feel all the feels, from giddy joy to heart-wrenching anguish. I was angry with Georgie, but also deeply sympathetic to her. I felt her frustration when she couldn't get Neal on his mobile, instead talking to her little girls who didn't seem all that bothered that their Mum was far away, full of doubt and guilt and insecurities. I loved Georgie's little sister, who has her own romantic dilemmas, and Georgie's Mum and stepfather are wonderfully realised supporting characters, as are Seth and Scotty, Georgie's colleagues. Really, I don't have the words to fully express how much I loved the book. Immediately upon finishing the book, I wasn't sure if I could rate it a full five stars, because I have some doubts about the ending and as she frequently does, Rowell leaves a LOT open to interpretation, which frustrates me every time. Yet I chose to remain hopeful for Neal and Georgie, and having thought so much about the book and discussed it with others, I can't give it any less than top marks.
If you haven't read any Rainbow Rowell yet, what are you waiting for?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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