It's 1999 and friends Beth and Jennifer, who work at a newspaper, exchange emails across the newsroom throughout the work day. Shy IT guy Lincoln, a few floors below in the same building, has the job of reading flagged emails, and as he goes through Beth and Jennifer's emails, he finds himself falling for one of them.
Attachments perfectly encapsulates the world when people first started using the internet. Just like in Landline, Rowell combines nostalgia with a fantastic story that somehow doesn't feel dated even though one of the central comedy points in Attachments is how the approaching millennium might muck up all computer systems (remember that?!). It's a book that I think feels relevant even if you have no concept of dial-up internet.
The way Attachments is written, we mostly only see Beth and Jennifer through their emails, while we actually spend time with Lincoln. Despite this, I still felt like I knew Beth and Jennifer really well - I laughed with them, cried with them, got frustrated with them. And because of that, you can understand why Lincoln feels like he knows the women too, and why he falls for the iteration of one of them that he sees. If Rowell can make us, the reader, feel like we know and can sympathise and empathise with Beth and Jennifer, it's not so far-fetched to think that Lincoln can feel strong emotions for the pair as well.
That's not to say that there is no discussion of the moral implications of Lincoln's job as email spy. He is uncomfortable with his job, and Rowell doesn't give him an easy ride during the book - he's constantly worried about what he's doing, and feels guilty about it. It's partly Lincoln's uneasiness with what he is doing and how he gets to know Beth and Jennifer that prevents him from making a move and approaching them in person. It's only when he frees himself from his guilt (and his job) that Lincoln is really able to move forward.
As well as exploring the cusp of a new century, Rowell also explores the cusp of true adulthood - Lincoln, Beth and Jennifer are all grown ups, but there are things holding them back from feeling like, and acting like, grown ups. Each of them needs to forge their own path forward, in spite of what their loved ones want, and it's emotional to read about, and really made my heart feel like it was being squeezed.
There's so much about this novel I love - the portrayal of a newsroom (the most accurate I've read in a book, because Rowell used to work at a newspaper herself), the struggle to get over the past and not let it define your future, and the gorgeous love story in the pages. Attachments is a lovely, lovely book (in my review notes all I've written is: SO CUTE!) in which Rowell captures the complicated emotions of falling in and out of love, and of learning to be happy with yourself. It's a book I raced through, and one I'll read again and again and again.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Orion. This did not affect my review.