Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Plume 2012 (2011)
Lincoln has never taken a decisive action for himself: he’s quite content to let things happen to him, especially when it was his ex-girlfriend making the decisions. After that disastrous break-up, he hasn’t been too interested in much of anything. He took a while to finish his degree, then topped it up with a couple of Masters, and now is living at home with his mum and working nights at a newspaper as the IT security guy (even though he never took a single IT class). His job is simple: read through the e-mails caught by the WebFence program and send out warnings to those using e-mail and the internet inappropriately.
It’s 1999, after all, and not only is the looming threat of Y2K causing everyone major anxiety, but the whole concept of access to e-mail and the World Wide Web at work is still a fairly new one, and the Powers That Be at the Courier are deeply suspicious of their employees. After the initial spate of warning people not to look up porn or share offensive jokes, Lincoln doesn’t have much to do. The only highlight of his job is reading the personal e-mails of Jennifer Scribner-Snyder, a copy editor, and her friend, Beth Fremont, the movie reviewer.
Their e-mails are so entertaining, their personalities so refreshing and honest and witty, that Lincoln decides early on not to send them a reprimand – he wants to keep reading. When he starts to feel drawn to Beth, he knows he should stop reading her e-mail, but he can’t. And when he makes the connection between himself, unbelievable as it may seem, and Beth’s “hot guy” at work whom she has a crush on, his voyeuristic job becomes a bigger-than-ethical question: how can he meet Beth without being honest with her, and surely by telling her that he’s been reading these private messages between her and Jennifer, she would be right to hate him and feel like she’s been violated?
For all that the ethical dilemma sounds hefty as I wrote it just now, this is actually a laugh-out-loud, clever, wonderfully written, sweet romantic comedy, better than the films too. I didn’t intend on waiting this long to read Attachments, it just sort of happened that way. But here is a book that I would have loved no matter when I read it or what mood I was in or what was going on in my life. It’s the kind of book you want to read again as soon you finish it; in fact, I didn’t want it to end at all. It’s a short book that reads fast and it ends at the right time, but while reading it I feel the weight of the pages left and worry, “The ending can’t possibly be coming so soon?” It’s the ultimate comfort book.
This is mostly the story of Lincoln, an intelligent, sweet, good-natured and romantic man living with a kind of directionless comfort, day-to-day, with no plans for the future and not even any real desire to move out of his mother’s house, even though he’s twenty-eight. For the first half of the book or thereabouts, you automatically build a mental image of him based on the bare facts of his life: he works in IT, so he must be nerdy; he works nights, so he must be overweight and pasty; he lives with his mum, so he must be a loser. But he’s not any of these things, not exactly. Yes, he plays Dungeons & Dragons every Saturday night with a group of likewise-misfit friends, but he doesn’t live in a cliched world of comic-book heroes and greasy hair. He doesn’t see any problem with living with his mum, a temporary arrangement, because he isn’t an antagonistic man who’s difficult to live with. Part of the fun of the novel is getting to know Lincoln and trying to figure him out. But one thing you can be sure of: you’ll either fall in love with him or at least be incredibly sweet on him.
In my book, he’s a bit too-good-to-be-true: he’s the kind of man many women want to be with, someone naturally romantic and caring as well as big and strong and handsome – sounds corny I know, but because he’s so humble and shy and you don’t get beaten over the head with descriptions of him, it doesn’t come across that way.
And for almost the entire book, we have no idea what Beth looks like either. Her personality comes across in her e-mails to Jennifer, so that like Lincoln, we’re already firm friends with her even before we have a description of her. I like that, I like it a lot. We’re so used to having that instant visualisation that some anticipation and having to work for it makes it all so much more worthwhile.
The novel’s humour made an instant connection with me. It’s got that little bit of Bridget Jones going on, as well as the Hollywood rom-com – but better, much better done than that. And those true-to-life moments or discussions that have you nodding your head going, “Yes, exactly!” Like this one, from one of Jennifer and Beth’s e-mails:
J>> Do you want to hang out tonight? I need a break from Mitch. He’s still in a funk about our successful use of birth control.
B>> Can’t. I’m finally going to see Eyes Wide Shut.
J>> Ech. I don’t like Tom Cruise.
B>> Me neither. But I usually like Tom Cruise movies.
J>> Me, too. . . Huh, maybe I do like Tom Cruise. But I hate feeling pressured to find him attractive. I don’t.
B>> Nobody does. It’s a lie perpetuated by the American media. Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts.
J>> Men don’t like Julia Roberts?
B>> Nope. Her teeth scare them.
J>> Good to know. [p.39]
(It’s so true: I don’t like Tom Cruise but I do like some of his movies (and I sometimes feel a kind of pressure to like him), and I don’t know any man who finds Julia Roberts attractive, including my own husband – he refuses to see a film with her in it because he can’t stand her.)
I’ve been mentioning its likeness to rom-coms throughout and I have to add that, towards the end I got this horrible feeling that it was going to go all Sleepless in Seattle on me and I wouldn’t actually get to see Lincoln and Beth together – I hate that about that movie, you never get to find out if they’d actually be good together: all that work and nothing to show for it but a shared smile! Ugh. So I want to let you know that it doesn’t end like that, and incidentally the novel is fully conscious of its rom-com likeness and makes fun of itself for it, especially towards the end. There are lots of 1999-specific cultural references (always fun), and it never takes itself seriously.
As soon as I finished it, which was altogether too soon, I wanted to start all over again. Relive some precious scenes. Read it with a clearer idea of Lincoln to better do him justice. But I’ll wait. I’ll put it on my shelf and know that it’s there for those days when I need a laugh, a cry (there is one bit in particular that did make me cry, I felt immense empathy for Jennifer), and a good love story that’s superbly written (meaning, no bad typos, gaffs, incorrect tense use or otherwise awkward sentences to distract me). Can’t wait for Rowells’ next book!
“With plenty of humour and heart, Attachments is such an engaging contemporary romance with wonderful and real characters.” Book’d Out
“…a sweet, romantic story with the twist of a male protagonist.” Chrisbookarama
“Attachments is one of those books that just makes you feel happy – while you’re reading it and after you’ve closed it. … One to take down off the shelf when you need a bit of a giggle and pick-me-up.” All the Books I Can Read
“A refreshing take on sweet romance. The atypical narrative format works well, and the main character is amiable and charming. Though the story is not action packed (and may seem quite slow to start), it’s a great one to spend a lazy afternoon reading.” My Need to Read
Missed yours? Leave me a link and I’ll add it.