Rainbow Rowell didn’t really seem to hit the ‘big time’ until she started writing young adult novels. That was my introduction to her work, anyway; her book Fangirl was on my original reading list when I started Keeping Up With The Penguins. I’ve had a look through her backlist, and Attachments was the only one with a premise that really appealed to me.

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Funnily enough, Attachments was actually Rainbow Rowell’s very first novel, published back in 2011. Even though it’s officially an “adult” novel, I have no doubt (having read it now) it would appeal to her YA fans, too – especially the ones that are into this ’90s nostalgia kick all the Gen Z kids seem to be on right now.

The setting: it’s 1999, and the internet is still a novelty. IT departments the world over are frantically preparing for Y2K, which threatens to plunge all the newly-online businesses into chaos. Beth and Jennifer are colleagues at a small newspaper that has only recently got On The Net. They email back and forth most days, chatting about their lives and romances.

Lincoln is the newspaper’s IT guy. He’s shy and socially awkward, and never really did get over the high school girlfriend who dumped him. He’s recently moved back to his hometown (back into his mother’s house, no less), and the best job he could land was scanning emails for “red flags”. That task takes up about 10 minutes of his night shift, so while the interns deal with the Y2K panic, he reads Beth and Jennifer’s emails to each other. It’s just a bit of entertainment, right?

(If you’re thinking that’s creepy, it definitely is. I actually couldn’t believe how little characters in Attachments were freaked out by it. The attitude was definitely “oh, I suppose that’s a little weird, but you’re SUCH A GREAT GUY Lincoln!”. Maybe this one doesn’t hold up to post-#MeToo scrutiny…)

Anyway, the chapters in Attachments alternate between Beth and Jennifer’s back-and-forth emails, and Lincoln’s life offline. They’re nice short chapters, definitely easy reading. They gave me a few chuckles, even a few literal lols.

Jennifer’s husband has baby mania, so she impulsively gets herself knocked up – hoping to simply get it over with. Beth’s boyfriend is a “musician” (i.e., she pays the rent while he parties all night with his gigging band), and seems reluctant to offer her a ring or any kind of commitment. This is all excellent fodder for email-based workplace chit-chat, especially on slow news days.

They “know”, logically, that someone is monitoring their emails (it’s company policy), but they don’t realise the extent to which Lincoln gets invested in their lives. Especially when he falls in love with one of them. To whom he’s never spoken. Or made eye contact. He doesn’t even know what she looks like.

Yep, there are unhealthy relationships as far as the eye can see in Attachments – except for Jennifer and Beth’s friendship. They’re really supportive of one another, but Rowell doesn’t paint too rosy a picture. They’re not nauseating fictional friends: they disagree and they snipe and they call each other out. It’s almost enough to make up for the shit-show that is literally every other human interaction in this novel.

Oh, and there’s a cheesy, just-what-you’d-expect ending. Absolutely zero spice, if that’s what you’re looking for.

I should probably mention here, too, that Rowell has been vehemently criticised in later years for some of the stuff she’s written (specifically, the novel Eleanor & Park – there’s an excellent explanation of the problems with it here). In Attachments, specifically, I noticed a few ableist slurs that would bother sensitive readers. Just so you know, forewarned is forearmed, et cetera. (Also, trigger warnings for miscarriage, and a dog death mentioned in conversation – of course, I’m probably the only reader who would notice or care about the latter.)

Should we still read books by cancelled authors? Here’s my take on this thorny question.

All told, I spent most of Attachments mentally begging Lincoln to shit or get off the can – but that’s me being a bit of a cynical snot, once again. It’s actually a light and charming novel with plenty of ’90s nostalgia and a wonderful female friendship. You just need to set aside your qualms about all the horrible hetero romances – and the creep factor.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Attachments:

  • “Yeah these people were super boring.” – Sorcia Lorde
  • “Just page after page of two boring lives lived by two wimpy people.” – Jane Myers Perrine
  • “Not what I expected, I want my money back” – Arthaya S. Finley