Northline by Willy Vlautin – A Review

Hi! I’ve been self-isolating for 28 days now, and I have at least 20 more days before the lockdown is lifted, so you can expect a ton of reviews, as I’ve been reading A LOT in the last week or so. What else is there to do?

I hope you’re all well, staying safe and sane in your homes.

Northline by Willy Vlautin
  • Publication date: December 28th 2008
  • Publisher: Faber Faber
  • Genre: Contemporary

Fleeing Las Vegas and her abusive boyfriend, Allison Johnson moves to Reno, but finds herself haunted by the mistakes of her past, and lacking any self-belief. Her only comfort seems to come from the imaginary conversations she has with her hero, Paul Newman. But, as life crawls on, small acts of kindness do start to reveal themselves and slowly the chance of a new life begins to emerge. Full of memorable characters and imbued with a beautiful sense of yearning, Northline is an extraordinary portrait of small-town America and an emotional tour de force.

Okay, this one is a tough one. There’s a part of me that wants to give this book a full 5 stars and another part that knows for sure it wasn’t quite there for me, it didn’t accomplish what 5 star books do to me.

Northline has been on my radar for years and years (since I got a Goodreads account in 2014) and when I finally came across it in a charity shop, it was a sign, I knew I needed to finally pick it up and read it. I’ve no regrets.

I didn’t know what to expect from the book, to be perfectly honest. All I knew going into it that it’s a book about a girl in her twenties, who escapes an abusive relationship after she finds out she’s pregnant. Turns out there really isn’t much more to the plot, other than what the blurb already tells you. And honestly – it’s a good thing.

Allison isn’t a very likable character, and yet I felt a lot of sympathy for her. She has a really low self-esteem, her home situation is far from ideal, she works a dead end job because she dropped out of high school and her boyfriend is a major asshole. She fucks up a lot and I don’t even blame her, because she has no real support system in her life and instead ends up getting wasted and talking to Paul Newman in her head.

I felt a certain connection with Allison, to whom Vlautin referred to as “the girl” most of the time, not necessarily because I related to her, but because parts of her story have happened to me or my friends and relatives, or could have happened if we made different decisions. We all go through rough patches and this book doesn’t sugar coat anything.

In less than 200 pages Vlautin packs a lot of emotion. So what the book lacks in plot, it makes up tenfold in atmosphere and overall mood. Allison’s story is not pretty, it’s actually quite bleak, but it’s broken up by a lot of encounters with kind people and it gives you hope that things will get turned around. As her environment changes, you notice a small change in her as well, and it’s especially apparent in her relationships – she opens up to more people and starts letting go of her fear of being inadequate.

I think I’ll settle on 4.75 stars.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back soon!

2 thoughts on “Northline by Willy Vlautin – A Review

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