>> Friday, October 14, 2011
It's 1999 and for the staff of one newspaper office, the internet is still a novelty. By day, two young women, Beth and Jennifer, spend their hours emailing each other, discussing in hilarious detail every aspect of their lives, from love troubles to family dramas. And by night, Lincoln, a shy, lonely IT guy spends his hours reading every exchange.1999. Most companies are still leery of allowing their employees access to that scary world, the internet and email. The publishers of the Courier, a small-town Nebraska paper, are especially terrified of their own employees, and so they hire Lincoln to take care of IT security.
At first their emails offer a welcome diversion, but as Lincoln unwittingly becomes drawn into their lives, the more he reads, the more he finds himself falling for one of them. By the time Lincoln realizes just how head-over-heels he really is, it's way too late to introduce himself. What would he say to her? 'Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail - and also, I think I love you'. After a series of close encounters, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . and find out whether there really is such a thing as love before first-sight.
Lincoln thought his job would involve such exciting stuff as building firewalls and fighting off hackers, but it turns out to be basically sitting round until 1 AM, spending some 10 minutes a night reading emails flagged up by the system as inappropriate and sending out template warnings. The job pays well, but it's boring and Lincoln feels like a bit of a creep for reading other people's emails. Especially because he's particularly relishing reading the often-flagged email exchanges between two female employees, so much so that he hasn't actually got round to sending them a warning.
The story is told in alternating chapters. Sections narrated in the third person, but showing Lincoln's point of view, are followed by the email exchanges between Jennifer, an editor, and Beth, a movie reviewer. They gossip, they whine and they share quite a lot about their lives, including the fact that Beth, in spite of her 8-year relationship with her emotionally unavailable musician boyfriend, Chris, has developed a crush on a mysterious Cute Guy she's seen round the office. A Cute Guy who, all the details indicate, is none other than Lincoln himself, who himself has been crushing on the sweet, funny woman Beth has proved to be in her own emails.
Attachments was a fun, charming and sweet romance, one I just couldn't stop reading. The chapters are pretty short, which unfortunately meant that I naively kept telling myself I'd read only one more, resulting in a couple of unexpectedly late nights.
Lincoln is a character whose description practically screams "loser". He's 28 and has moved back with his mom (who makes his dinner every day -and by the way, every single one of those dishes sounded amazing!). He's also still almost in mourning for his one significant relationship, which was with his high-school girlfriend (she broke up with him in the first year of uni). His only social interactions when the book starts are with his fellow dungeons and dragons-playing friends.
But for all this, Rowell manages to create a character who's not a loser at all. Instead, Lincoln comes across as shy, sweet and quite endearing. He's a genuinely good guy, but one who hasn't been able to resist the temptation to do something quite dodgy, and now he's in a bit of an untenable situation. He likes Beth, he knows she likes him, but how could it work out, when he's been reading her private emails? If they do get together and he confesses, she will break up with him, but if he doesn't, then they'll always have that secret between them.
Attachments is actually right on the line between romance and chick lit, only with the hero in the place of the heroine, having to be the one who grows up and finds his way. I'd call it lad lit, but the lad lit I've read has a completely different feel to it, this is definitely chick lit! We do get to know Beth quite well as well, but since it's only through her emails, there's a bit more of a distance there.
The emails, by the way, were hilarious. I have to say, most of the time they felt more like instant messages than email, but I had no trouble letting that go. You really get a feeling for who these women are, and I loved the portrayal of female friendship.
I also loved the setting. The book's written as a historical, albeit one that's set only 12 years ago, in an era I remember well, when I was just getting into the working world myself. It was funny how this felt very different from reading a contemporary actually written in 1999. I guess it's the way Rowell chooses to pinpoint the things that really bring that time back to us now (e.g. the Y2K hysteria), when a contemporary author has no idea which things will stay in people's memories (and she's probably had advice from critique partners to not include anything that will date the book -stupid advice!!). I did find the lack of worries about the "death of newspapers" a bit poignant -I guess I kind of felt about this as I would feel about a romance novel set in 1911, knowing the war is coming, and soon.
Attachments has had fantastic word of mouth (that's what made me pick it up), and this lovely book deserves all that buzz. It's landed Rowell on my autobuy list.
MY GRADE: A very strong B+.