Tuesday, 5 November 2013

REVIEW: Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell (4.5*)

(Orion Books, 2012)

Well, I don't think I'm quite the last person in the universe to read Rowell's debut, but I can't be far off!  I'd already read multiple rave reviews of this book around the blogosphere - which is why I bought it in the first place - but it was Hanna's very recent one that gave me that final push.  Two minutes after I finished reading her thoughts I was plucking my copy down from my shelves and eagerly diving into the first few pages... and I never looked back.  It's one of the loveliest books I've ever read!

If I had to describe this novel in one sentence, it would be: "All my favourite Nora Ephron movies rolled into one, only in book form."  The fantastic thing is that I'd been telling people this all the way through the reading experience - Tweeting about it, nagging my mum and sister to read it - and then in the last third of the book ROWELL NAME-DROPS THE NORA HOLY TRINITY (When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, OBVIOUSLY), two of which are amongst my favourite movies of all time.  I actually giggled out loud in delight when she mentioned them, and firmly believe that if this movie isn't already in production (with Rowell writing the screenplay herself) it's probably only a matter of time...  

So, what is this book actually ABOUT?  Well, it's about two friends, and a man.  The two friends are Beth and Jennifer, who work for the same newspaper and email each other constantly using the company's internal email system.  Unfortunately, these emails regularly break the company rules (mostly by containing flagged words, however innocuously), which is where Lincoln comes in.  He's a twenty-something computer geek who's had his heart broken and now lives back home with his mother.  It's his job to sit in the IT department every night, reading all flagged emails and sending out warnings to offenders about their computer usage.  Except... he never does warn Beth and Jennifer about the frequency of their misdemeanours.  Because he's starting to get drawn into their lives and enjoys reading their funny, compassionate exchanges.  Worse, he's starting to fall in love with Beth, a woman he's never even laid eyes on.  Can he ever find a way to meet her and make this work, despite his (admittedly sort-of legitimate) violation of her privacy? 

This book has SO much going for it - one of the main things, of course, being the wonderful characters.  Lincoln has all the sweetness of a Tom Hanks romantic lead (there I go again with the Nora), mixed with the lifestyle of the boys from The IT Crowd, only he's built like a Hemsworth.  A Thor-shaped Hemsworth.  Jennifer and Beth are so funny and normal and real that reading their epistolary sections (which make up a good chunk of the book) felt more like reading genuine emails or instant messages between friends.   In fact, at times it reminded me of my relationship with my blogging friends - our funny emails and comment-conversations and hilarious Tweeting marathons.  Their emails made me laugh, and occasionally I had to remind myself that these were fictional women, not real ones!

The other HUGE thing Attachments has going for it is the sheer wealth of pop culture references and the nice dose of 90s nostalgia.  I made a list of some of the awesomeness Rowell mentions throughout the novel, which aside from the Nora-ey goodness includes references to: personality quiz websites, Heathers, the Little Women movie with Winona Ryder (which I always loved!), The Matrix, Eddie Vedder, Toy Story, the Y2K millennium bug panic, Superman, Batman, X-Men, Kevin Smith movies, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the Backstreet Boys, Bridget Jones, Cheers, the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Lord of the Rings, the Pokemon movie (with special reference to Pikachu), Fight Club, Freaky Friday, VHS tapes, VCRs with clocks, The Sixth Sense, The Stepford Wives, Titanic, Christopher Walken, James Dean, Gandalf, Billy Elliot, Jane Austen and Star Wars.  ALL IN ONE BOOK.  I think me and Rainbow would get on just fine...

Hanna mentioned the 'mutual stalking' thing in her review - Beth is sort of following Lincoln around while he's reading her emails - but I think her conclusion was right.  In the wrong hands, it could have been really creepy and uncomfortable to read, but Rowell walks the fine line between 'wrong' and 'kooky' with great precision.  After all, reading flagged emails is Lincoln's job, and it was very easy to imagine him getting drawn into Beth and Jennifer's lives without having any dodgy motives.  Let's face it, fifteen years down the line it's so easy to get drawn into other people's conversations and issues via platforms like Twitter; the only difference here is that more private moments are discussed because it's technically private email.  Likewise, Beth watching out for Lincoln is also totally believable - what girl HASN'T hung around somewhere waiting for their crush to walk by, or sneakily followed them somewhere to find out what they like?  I certainly have, especially when I was a teenager!

Sooooo, what I'm basically trying to say is that this book is really, really good.  It made me laugh OUT LOUD within the first few pages - so much so that I scared the cat - and continued to make me smile and giggle until the very end... Yet it also made me cry, over Lincoln's loneliness and over the sheer perfection of his inevitable declaration of love to Beth at the end of the novel.  It was definitely the 'EEEEEEE!' moment that comes at the end of a good rom-com, only on paper!  Admittedly I was a bit thrown by Beth's behaviour just prior to this declaration (the cinema scene, if you've read it already), which seemed totally out of character and a very bizarre thing to do - but what followed made the suspension of disbelief worthwhile.  That completely incongruous moment was the only thing coming between this book and a full five-star rating.  I'm SO glad I finally read it; the prose is just delicious, the characters are the right side of kooky, the premise is quirky, it may have ruined me for all chick lit ever, and I'm now feeling an urgent need to go and watch every Nora Ephron movie I own.  After that, my priorities look like this: 1) Read Fangirl;  2) Buy Eleanor and Park, and 3) Preorder everything Rainbow Rowell is ever planning to write, even some things she hasn't thought of yet.  If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is!

Notable Quotables:
  • "The worst thing about the Internet, as far as Greg's bosses were concerned, was that it was now impossible to distinguish a roomful of people working diligently from a roomful of people taking the What-Kind-of-Dog-Am-I? online personality quiz."
  • "So... I'm larking through the Baby Gap, looking at tiny capri pants and sweaters that cost more than... I don't know, more than they should.  And I get totally sucked in by this ridiculous, tiny fur coat.  The kind of coat a baby might need to go to the ballet.  In Moscow.  In 1918."
  • "Love.  Purpose.  Those are the things that you can't plan for.  Those are the things that just happen.  And what if they don't happen?  Do you spend your whole life pining for them?  Waiting to be happy?"
  • "I know that people change.  I thought... I thought we were going to change together.  I thought that's what it meant to be in love."
  • "There's nothing you could become that I haven't already fallen in love with."  THIS.  This, ladies.  I think it's the most romantic line I've ever read.  I melted.
  • "... what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things.  One at a time.  Just let your pile of good things grow."
  • "I found myself thinking that this is how I would want to dance at my own wedding...  The kind of dancing that's more like touching to music.  That's more like closing your eyes and trying to think how you would tell someone that you loved him if you didn't have words or sex."
  • "I had a wobbly moment at the grocery store last night when I realized I was buying a single banana.  There's nothing sadder than buying bananas one at a time

Source: I bought this book from my local Waterstones.