A while ago, I promised a review of Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine books. They’re one of the first suggestions people had for me when I said I wanted to start writing reviews of books that feature mail in some way, and they are completely gorgeous. Did you have pop-up books as a kid? Or any kind of books with pockets and things to discover? If you loved those, these are the adult version: some of the pages show postcards, carefully illustrated with stamps and all, while others have decorated envelopes stuck onto the page, with actual letters inside which you can carefully pull out, unfold, and read. The whole experience feels a little like a treasure hunt.
The original three books are not exactly weighty: I think I read all three in under an hour in total—but what an absorbed, fascinated hour! The story is mysterious, opening with a postcard from Sabine to Griffin:
It’s good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your fish postcards? I think you were right – the wine glass has more impact than the cup.
This seems a prosaic enough way to start: it looks like a simple enough postcard to an artist, after all. But Griffin writes back (on a postcard with the fish/wine glass image) in consternation. Does he know her? How does she know about the version with the cup? He never showed it to anyone…
It turns out that the two of them share a magical bond, and Sabine has been observing Griffin’s work from afar for quite some time. Their postcards and letters are a beautiful example of how correspondence—even without the correspondents knowing what the other even looks like—can create friendship and intimacy. Griffin and Sabine fall in love via their postcards and letters, and eventually make a plan to meet.
The story is both a love story and a fantastical mystery, and it’s both wonderful and frustrating because it’s told entirely through the medium of the postcards and letters they exchange. You have to fill in the gaps with your own imagination (think about how eagerly they each wait for their postcards!) and do a fair bit of puzzling yourself to imagine what they think as they’re writing the cards and letters. The mysteries never really get resolved (at least not in the original trilogy, though there are more books now), so if you need all the answers, then it might not be for you.
Personally, I didn’t need things to be wrapped up neatly, and I like being left with questions. The books are beautiful, and the reading experience is pretty unique, and even if we’ve never personally been mystically connected to someone we’re writing a letter to, I think we all know a little about the connections that putting pen to paper can forge!
I’m a little behind myself on writing up these reviews—reading the books is always the most fun part!—but I can promise that reviews of Deirdre Mask’s The Address Book (non-fiction about the importance of addresses) and Rita Mae Brown’s Wish You Were Here (a mystery led by a postmistress and her pets) should be coming soon. After that, I think it’s finally time for me to take the leap and read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was another of the books that people immediately began recommending as soon as I asked for suggestions about epistolary novels and books involving mail. After that, who knows? If you’re on the forum, you can always make suggestions to me in the topic I set up.