Landline is, at its core, about a marriage that is on the ropes. Georgie is a highly successful TV writer, which means she spends a lot of time in the office and less with her husband Neal and their two daughters. When an opportunity arises to pitch a show to a network, meaning that Georgie would have to work over Christmas, Neal furiously goes on their trip to his mother’s house without her.
In a desperate bid to contact her husband to sort through their problems, she finds herself on the phone to his past self, shortly before he proposed to her. Now she is left with two choices- does she use her link to the past to try and save her marriage or stop it from happening?
This book is truly an emotional rollercoaster. I started off genuinely wondering why Georgie puts up with Neal. She was up for a huge break for her career and her refusing to go for it would also let down her writing partners. Yes, it meant possibly missing Christmas, but a truly supportive partner wouldn’t expect their spouse to turn down an amazing opportunity. In my own experience, I have pondered turning down a gig because it would mean missing this, that or the other and, every single time, my husband has told me to just go for it. He never wants to be the reason why I don’t do something that I really want to do. I would do the same for him. So, to start off, I thought Neal was being a jerk.
Rowell, anticipating this initial opinion, tells the story by going back and forth between past and present. During this rough patch, our protagonist looks back on her life with Neal- how they met, how they started to fall in love. As the reader, you start to understand their deep connection, how their love for each other transcends all of their differences and life goals. You begin to understand why Georgie has chosen Neal, why she loves him so much. You end up falling for him a little bit too.
Another theme that gets touched on a lot here is the struggle women face in trying to “have it all”. Georgie is constantly in battle between her desire to push her career forward and finally be able to run a show that she’s proud of and her desire to be a better wife and a better mother. There is no question that she adores her family, but she cannot deny her duty to her job. However, whenever she leans more to one aspect of her life, the other starts to fall apart. Due to the nature of this book, Rowell focuses more on how Georgie knows her family is more important. Honestly, that can be a little frustrating as it can come off as a little preachy on the whole “being a wife and mother is the most important thing a woman can be” message. Based on Rowell’s other works, I doubt this was intentional. Landline also has a somewhat open ending, so the reader is left to add on what they think happens in the fallout.
Now, as for the sci-fi aspect of this book… the time travelling phone. While her husband and children are out of state, Georgie cannot bear to go back to her own house, so she ends up sleeping in her childhood bedroom. Since her phone battery is constantly uncharged, she grabs an old rotary phone and plugs it into the phoneline connection under her bed. She gets a surprise when she finally gets through to Neal by calling his mother’s house, but the conversation seems off and so does his voice. When he speaks to someone away from the phone, Georgie becomes convinced that she’s losing her mind because she soon finds herself speaking to her deceased father-in-law. When she finally thinks she’s figured out what’s happening- that she’s calling back through time, she tries to use it to her advantage to reconnect with her soon-to-be husband. There is no explanation as to why the phone rings back into the past. Well, there is one sort-of explanation (which I won’t reveal because I don’t want to give spoilers) but it doesn’t really explain anything. It seems more of an ethereal “you’re getting a second chance” kind of miracle rather than some sort of sciencey explanation behind it. There is also some sort of weird wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey aspect to it as well. Which, again, I won’t go into because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. It does kind of tie your brain in knots a bit, which is what we have all come to expect from a decent time-travel story.
To summarise, this is a lovely story with a lot of different facets. The characters are interesting and varied, there’s a good mixture of drama, romance and comedy, and Rowell’s writing is very readable. Not once did I read her work and think ‘argh, just get to the bloody point’, so that’s a tick in my book.