One of my favorites, Griffin & Sabine captured my imagination when it was first published. I was working in a book store at the time and I recommended this book to everyone. Everyone. If you are not one of the seemingly thousands of people I preached to about this book and it’s new to you, let me explain…
Griffin Moss is an artist living in London. He has his own postcard company, as in he’s the sole artist for his creations and works out of his apartment. He leads a solitary life. One day, he receives a mysterious postcard in the mail from an a woman named Sabine Strohem who lives in the South Pacific. She seems to know him, but he does not know her. Throughout their correspondence, Sabine reveals that she has been able to see his drawings as he creates them but never knew who he was or why she could see his creations but nothing else about him. This seeing of visions has gone on for 15 years and she finally read an article in a publication about an artist and recognized the featured drawing as one from her visions. Voila! She tracked him down and sent a postcard by way of introduction.
The book text is actually a series of postcards and letters (enclosed in envelopes attached to the book pages). It reads as though you’re going through someone else’s mail, so you get a voyeuristic kick if that’s your thing. The pair reveal each one’s life growing up and what their daily lives are like now. Griffin admits to Sabine that he struggles with a deep depression, and he seems to become obsessed with this paper-only relationship. Early on, he signs his correspondence with “love, Griffin” whereas Sabine is more careful in her signing-off wording. There is a definite attachment on both sides, but Griffin seems to become more depressed by his daily life and more focused on Sabine and her letters as the only bright point he has. Sabine asks him to come visit, and Griffin responds that he has become too attached to the whole correspondence and declines to visit. He also states that he is breaking off the communication because he’s not completely sure the whole thing isn’t in his head. The last letter is from Sabine stating that she will come visit him since he won’t come to her. The book ends as a mystery. Was Sabine ever real? Was Griffin so mentally broken that he created his own escape? Did he get catfished by a serial killer? Did Sabine come to visit and the two lived happily ever after?
Written in 1991, Griffin & Sabine was almost pre-internet but certainly pre-social media. People were still writing letters and putting stamps on them, and you waited and waited for the mail to come so you could get news from far away. Letters and long-distance (expensive) calls were how you kept up with folks in the not-so-distant past. There was no friending, no ghosting and no catfishing. I mean, there was, but it was not so public and certainly there weren’t television shows about it. Griffin & Sabine takes place over the course of a year as the reader can tell from the dates on the letters, so there is more time between correspondence for the two to daydream about each other and, especially for Sabine, to put a context behind the pictures she sees in her head.
Upon re-reading this book, I was glad that it still held up after all these years. It’s beautiful and intriguing and romantic and a little tragic, too. It also caught my attention at the time it was published because I had a pen pal from Canada I had written to for something like 13 years. He and I never met and gradually stopped corresponding, but I still think about him and actually had sent him a copy of this book back in the day. This book gives me all the feels for a variety of reasons, and I’m so happy to be able to share it with you! (Spoiler alert – there’s a whole series of these books with the final one published just two years ago, so you can become completely immersed yourself! There are lots of links out in the World Wide Web on author Nick Bantock and the whole series, but I don’t want to give away any real spoilers, so I’ll let you search those at your own peril…)