Book Review | Landline

By Robert Pisani

Author Rainbow Rowell
Author Rainbow Rowell

There comes a moment when an author who is good writes a book which surpasses anything which she has done. Rainbow Rowell is primarily known as a Young Adult (Is that the strangest category name ever?) writer, although she has written another novel for adults before, ‘Landline’ is the one in which she goes beyond her usual comfort zones.

Rowell excels at writing about relationships; she never goes overboard, never too dramatic and she delves deeply into the intricacies of a coupling. ‘Landline’ does have its roots in this but there is also an extra element, which could probably change one’s opinion of her.

Georgie McCool, who writes scripts for sitcoms, is finally going to grasp the long awaited contract for the TV show that she and her writing partner Seth have been talking about for decades. However there is a snag: in order to finish the pilot by the requested deadline, she has to stay in L.A. while the rest of her family go to Nebraska for the Christmas holidays. To make matters worse, her marriage isn’t really going that well and she has a lot of unresolved conflicts with her husband Neal.

When Neal and her two children do leave, Georgie starts fearing that her marriage is over and that her attitude towards her work and co-worker is the cause. She also starts to reminisce upon the early days of her relationship and the point where the rot started to gnaw at their love life

At this point ‘Landline’ is like your ordinary romance novel, but then Georgie discovers a link to the past in her mother’s house and she actually does have the potential to correct all the mistakes that she has made. Whether she does is another matter altogether as she knows that changing the past will have certain outcomes in the future.

There were some times when I thought I was thinking about ‘Back to the Future’ (and it is referenced in the novel) mixed with Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ (as far as romance and sci-fi are entwined- the similarity stops there) and sometimes Georgie’s situation descends into the Kafkaesque. In the middle of all this, Georgie discovers that her mother’s family possess some secrets too.

Rowell is a very solid writer. There are no tricks or flourishes with the language she uses. But she does emit warmth from her characters and this is why she is gaining popularity as an author. It is very easy to relate to the protagonists in her novels. In fact one of the best parts of the book involves a pug, a pizza delivery person and a Metallica t-shirt.

This is not to say that the sci-fi bits of ‘Landline fail’ but Rowell can bash out a non-gooey heartfelt scene easily. There were moments when I did feel that the more outré bits required more planning on her part, though to her credit, she does pull them off. It’s worth mentioning that towards the novel’s conclusion I was totally absorbed as I wanted to know what would happen to Georgie - Rowell does know how to create tension between the reader and protagonist.

This is not to say that the novel is perfect. While the plot itself is very good, there were a few glitches that could easily have been pruned and grafted. One such annoyance was the overuse of pop culture references. It is understood that since a chunk of the book takes place in the 80’s and 90’s is it to be expected that the TV shows and movies of the time are to be mentioned but in ‘Landline’ we get to a point where it borders on showing off.

I also found some of the dialogue way too long and repetitive in places but these are minor piques and can be easily ignored.

Although I am not some prophet, I feel that ‘Landline’ could prove to be a turning point for Rowell and that future novels could prove to be more interesting, assuming she explores and expands on the sci-fi sections of ‘Landline’.