Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

As has already been well documented, I am a fan of Rainbow Rowell’s work. Though I have Attachments, Landline has ended up being the first of Rowell’s adult novels I’ve read.

Landline tells the story of TV writer Georgie and her marriage to Neal. At the start of the book, Georgie and Neal are in a pretty terrible place. Things have apparently been getting steadily worse for some time and reach a crisis point when Georgie opts to stay in LA over Christmas to work on her dream show with her writing partner, Seth, rather than make the trip to Omaha with Neal and their daughters. She is shocked when Neal decides to go anyway without her and in the days between them leaving and Christmas Day, begins to wonder whether she’ll still have a husband come New Year.

Staying at her Mother’s to avoid going home to an empty house, Georgie discovers that her old rotary phone in her teenaged bedroom still works…only instead of calling Neal in the present, she somehow calls him in the past, to the last week they spent apart, just before he proposed. Can Georgie win Neal back and resuscitate their marriage by talking to his younger self?

I really liked Landline. It is (understandably) markedly different in tone to her other books, though there is an embracing of life’s darker corners in Landline that also occurs in Eleanor and Park. I think Rowell tackled a common subject (relationship difficulty) in a totally original way, somehow managing to incorporate time travel into what was often a rather sad story of ordinary things.

Georgie was relatable and lovable and I liked how rubbish she was at everything but writing; and how Neal made sure everything in their lives worked because she was so wrapped up in what she did. I imagine that’s true for anyone whose job happens to be their true passion as well; living with them must be exhausting and frustrating at times.

As someone who is in a long-term relationship, I thought the way Rowell depicted the struggles Georgie and Neal were having was very realistic. It’s the little things that add up to an argument. Though Neal is ostensibly angry about Georgie putting work over her personal life (and her close working relationship with Seth) Georgie knows that it’s really the culmination of factors over time. Her re-evaluation of everything up to this point is both heart-breaking and encouraging; it was good to see Georgie take some responsibility for how things were, although I also think she blamed herself too much and Neal not enough…

As is often the case with Rowell’s books, the secondary characters are vivid and help to illuminate our main characters. I enjoyed reading about Georgie’s family and children, finding them funny and warm. The only bum note for me was Seth. I didn’t really buy him as a character and I am never a fan of any kind of love triangle – whether actual or implied.

Another reviewer (I can’t remember where, sorry! Let me know if you know who it was) noted how good Rowell’s dialogue is and how well rounded her characters’ speech patterns are. I totally agree with this and it means that Rowell is particularly well suited to a novel where our central characters are talking primarily on the phone. It’s a nice reminder too, that when life takes over, we often forget to just sit with those we’re close to and talk, just talk; about everything and nothing at all.

Landline is a poignant, heartfelt and moving story of a relationship and definitely recommended.


*BONUS: I was fortunate to attend a book talk and signing with Rainbow Rowell just after finishing Landline a couple of weeks ago, and she was as sparkly and funny as one might imagine.


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