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Blog > Book Review: The Griffin & Sabine Trilogy

Cover of Griffin & Sabine

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:

Griffin Moss

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.

Sabine Strohem

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…

Photo showing the text of Sabine's first postcard, and the image for Griffin's reply

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.

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39 comments so far

PostAddy, United States of America
Oh I love this trilogy! The story and the artwork are so wonderful! There is a postcard box set of all the postcards in the books and it’s no longer in print but I was lucky (very lucky) to find it in a thrift store some time ago even before I started postcrossing. I knew they were special and that’s actually how I was introduced to the books! I’ve sent a few as officials but most are too hard to part with!
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Mattie07, Netherlands
A while back I bought book one, and I loved it. Haven’t gotten around to buying the others yet though!
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postmuse, United States of America
I love his books! Thank you for this review. Like you, I don’t always enjoy an ending that is tied in a neat bow and Bantock endings are a beautiful tangle.
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volvomom, United States of America
I have loved these books for years. So amazing.
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NanaPam, United States of America
I also have enjoyed Bantock's Griffin and Sabine books. The artwork is wonderful and I would love to received and send mail like this. Also his book Urgent 2nd Class has lots of ephemera and collage ideas. Thank you for sharing your review and I look forward to more.
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buckwriter, Italy
I have these books.. One of my chorrespondents sent me the first one. I fell in love for the story although not too pleasant.
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Indreni, United States of America
I love this series so much! It was brilliant, and just so visual and tactile to read!
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denska, United States of America
These are my favorite! I love the postcard set , too.
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babytreese, United States of America
Thanks so much for posting this! I had never heard of these books! I will be buying these for my adult children. Thanks so much!!!
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Mosshumla, Sweden
Great! The Stockholm library has the first of the books. I'll go and get it as soon as possible. Thanks for your review!
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snailmailingnancy, New Zealand
Thanks for the review! I'll look for the series at the local bookstores 📚
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Flippie, Canada
I always love Pop-up Books as a child and you told me that those are made for adults, I have to order them by my local bookstore!
Thank you.
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fire_maggie, United States of America
Yesss!! I love the Griffin and Sabine books! I always loved the Jolly Postman as a child and they are the grown up version. :D
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rjmom, United States of America
I read the first one in the trilogy, but my library does not have the others and cannot order them (I asked). I can't wait for your review of The Address Book. I saw it mentioned in a blog post here so borrowed it from the library. It's fascinating and well-written.
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AWEF, United States of America
Thank you for this review. I’m another big fan of the Griffin & Sabine series!!! (And many of Bantock’s other books! 😍👍)
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alterego, Canada
There are actually 7 books in the Griffin & Sabine series. I loved them all though they do tend to get more weird as they go on. I never knew there are actual postcards out there until I received one in my early days of postcrossing! Very fun!

Also, don't forget about the wonderful books, 84 Charing Cross Road and its sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff. The 2 books were made into a film called 84 Charing Cross Road, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, one of the best film adaptations of a book out there! An all-time favourite of mine.
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alterego, Canada
Also, for kids, there is a terrific series of books with letters/postcards called The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allen Ahlberg. I would have posted this on the forum topic linked to above but it says it's private so I can't.
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hellokirsten, Canada
Oh he used to live on my little island and is now on Salt Spring Island. I have two original collages by Nick and a signed book. They are real treasures 😊. I love visiting him when we visit his lovely rock in the Pacific.
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manders2280, United States of America
I was thrilled when I found that he sells artwork on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BANTOCKart
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beesknees, United States of America
These were my first postcards I bought 20+ years ago - just sent one a few weeks ago - some are quite 'dark' so not everyone would like them. I love the books- have them all.
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nastynew, Russia
I have never met this book. But on the topic of this blog, I want to suggest - I read the book by Elchin Safarli "When I return, be at home." This is also a story in letters! Soul book ...
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mi-redo, Japan
I've loved this trilogy for years. So I gave one of them to many friends as a present and introduced it to a local book club. All of them fell in love with it! I wish I could have bought a set of postcards in the books.
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cjf3848, United States of America
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is excellent! I can’t wait to read Griffin and Sabine.
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drellka, Russia
Thank you very much for the review of The Griffin & Sabine Trilogy! I just adore it. It's my precious tresure of books as apart from the thrill of the story and the form of it, I received them from my dear penpal from US. Impossible to describe my feelings about that gift. :)
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WattlePark, Australia
Slightly off topic but relating to an adult pop up book.
One lunch time when I was working in the city, I was walking through a department store and saw a display of pop-up books. At that time I had a pop-up book collection ranging from the story of Moses to the (British) Royal Family.
I couldn't resist the pyramid of books, so I picked one up, opened it out and gasped - it was a Pop-up Kama Sutra. Of course I bought 10 copies on the spot as I could see the potential for wedding gifts etc. Went back to work and showed my find around, mass exodus. Possibly my colleagues had stripped the display or maybe someone had pointed out that this wasn't exactly a book for display in the children's section, because the next day there was not even one popping up anywhere..
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Demmi, Romania
Beautiful review! Thanks to all for the interesting insights find in your comments!
#Kudos for the blog!
:) :D
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lydacher, United States of America
I have some other pop-up books by Nick Bantock, published in the early '90s: Jabberwocky, Kubla Khan, Solomon Grundy, Robin Hood, Wings (a pop-up of things that fly), and Runners, Sliders, Bouncers, Climbers.
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alison41, South Africa
Thanks for the review. Some years ago the book was all over South African bookstores, but I never browsed or bought a copy. It sounds both charming and intriguing.
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suegathman, United States of America
I loved these books and got my copy signed many years ago when Mr. Bantock was in town. Every time I re-read them I find something new!
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3Meredyth, Australia
I have these books as well, they are a treasure. I was drawn to them by the "little" letters.
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Nastya_post, Russia
Thanks for the review! ☺️
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mangycat, United States of America
I discovered these in college (90s) and absolutely LOVE them. Now I'm inspired to pull them off the shelf and give them another read!
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Jotdog21, Canada
Your review is lovely. I was gifted these when they first came out. At that time, he was living on a little island close to where I lived. I then had the great fortune of finding three signed copies at a thrift store, which now sit with the first copies I was given. I love his mind and creativity and the visual images. Look forward to your next review. Thank you
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teamug, Germany
Thank you for this nice review. I will definitely check this out.
Recently someone ave me the book:
Ship of Theseus. It is full of postcards, letters scraps of notes that two readers that both read the book from a library send to one another. The book is designed as if it really was used for years in a library and is full of notes that these readers send to each other. Its a book within a book.
Does anyone know it? It is so intriguing.
It was conceived and written by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.
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SuJo1963, Canada
You'll love the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society! It's one of my all time favourite books, and I've read it numerous times. I am off now to find the Bantock books. I look forward to reading them.
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kwidprokuo, United States of America
It is exactly because of the Griffin and Sabine series and Postcrossing, that I met an important friend in my life: Back in 2010, I sent Postcrossing US-664645 (image is posted) to a fellow postcrosser, of a Griffin and Sabine postcard. From this started a letter/card correspondence over our shared enthusiasm for Nick Bantock's letter art. 11 years later, we've been friends, and have met in person a couple times despite being in different parts of the country.
The Jolly Postman series by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is also a beautiful letter /pop up book, for kids (and not so young kids) with mail and advertisement (not quite "junk" mail) items in envelopes. (Nick Bantock was aware of this series and afraid it would be similar when he was publishing the first Griffin and Sabine, but I think it is very different, but just as worthy of note for different reasons).
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ilovemail2021, United States of America
Thanks for sharing this. I love that series, and recently read books 4 and 5 - always on the hunt for the next one! Also by Nick Bantock is The Trickster's Hat, a book of exercises in creativity. Got that one from the library, but planning to buy a copy, it's amazing.
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p_penelope, United States of America
An epistolary trilogy (but each book stands alone- no cliffhanger endings!) that's very fun are the Sorcery and Cecilia books by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, set in an AU Regency England where magic is real.
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LC-Canada, Canada
Nick Bantock just announced that he's just read the pilot script for a potential new TV series based on the Griffin & Sabine books that is being pitched to the TV networks now.

Nothing is confirmed yet, but he will keep us posted.

You can follow him on Facebook if you want more of his art & writings - he's working on several other books & projects to be published down the road.
https://www.facebook.com/nickbantock/posts/302245135055688
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