I’m supremely annoyed.
I don’t remember the last time a book made me so. Enough to pause my day and break my new weekly blogging pattern in order to share this frustration.
Because this is an example of design and writing at its finest: crafting an experience that leaves the audience in such a state that they must DO SOMETHING.
The book is Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine, the first one, which has been out for years. I had first encountered it when I was 13; my favorite class then was American history, because Mrs. Collins let us write and illustrate our homework. I went all out every time, using calligraphy pens and soaking paper in tea to make it look like parchment…and she, seeing my work, insisted that I borrow her personal collection of Bantock’s books. But I was too young to appreciate the stories beyond the illustrations back then.
The copy now beside me was flung out on the streets of New York, where I found it without even a dust jacket to keep it warm in the bitter wintry mix or to protect it from the gnawing rats of the gutters.
It’s an epistolary book—a narrative told through letters. Beautifully illustrated postcards and tipped in envelopes containing letters…
It’s an exchange between two artists. A lonely man of an undetermined age and a 28-year-old woman who can see whatever he is drawing—despite living thousands of miles away, she can see every line he draws and erases. Through their paper correspondence, they become intensely, emotionally attached.
If you’re like me, you’re now hyperskeptical…sounds unrealistic and cheesy in a Fred Astaire/Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra way. You might start reaching for your copy of The Iliad instead (gore, steel, reality!).
If you’re more of a romantic softie, you’ll be swept off your feet. By placing the notes in your hands (literally), the book makes you feel like you are snooping on a correspondence between two real people. And, unlike any typical copy of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (considered the first epistolary novel in the Western canon—dreadfully long and repetitive), this tactile quality makes it easier to imagine the swirl of emotions behind each convincingly designed note.
In either case, whatever your susceptibility to fantastic romance plots, the last two postcards turn everything upside down. Not unlike the ending of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, where you suddenly find yourself questioning what has happened, and all that you had just read. It’s a form of gaslighting.
Gaslighting is unfair.
It makes people supremely annoyed.
And perhaps now I’ll go take a walk in that wintry mix, in search of the next jettisoned volume in Bantock’s series. (Ehh, Amazon sounds warmer.)