Nick Bantock’s ‘Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence’
I’ve been meaning to write about this curious find for a while now. On first viewing, ‘Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence’ reminds me of the children’s classic, ‘The Jolly Postman’ by Allan and Janet Ahlberg. It is epistolary, and the plot unfolds through a cornucopia of postcards and letters tucked away in envelopes. Like the Ahlbergs’ book, the illustrations are a real visual treat – there’s something quite fun about extricating and reading the letters, which look hand-written in sepia ink. There, however, the comparison ends, as this correspondence is full of dark mystery, and asks more questions than it answers.
The methodical, solitary world of Griffin Moss, a London-based artist, is thrown into chaos by his correspondence with a mysterious woman, Sabine, who lives on a tropical island thousands of miles away. Her physical distance doesn’t fit with her seemingly uncanny ability to read Griffin’s mind, and this disconnect clearly disconcerts him, as well as us, the readers. The play of power is at first teasing, but soon becomes unsettling, but it is unclear whether this woman is predatory, a harmless prankster or symptomatic of Griffin’s unraveling mind.
With each communication, the tale becomes darker, more twisted and macabre. The surreal illustrations only heighten the sinister undercurrents, and by the end of the book, what had evoked innocent intrigue at the start began to feel uncomfortably voyeuristic, as, like Sabine, we are observing Griffin as he tries to make sense of this invasion into his life and work, unsure whether it is hostile or not, or even whether he is losing a grip on reality. It’s a brilliantly inventive book, and has haunted me long after I first read it. It is the first of a trilogy, and I absolutely must get hold of the next installment, I need to know what happens next. It’s a real treat, but for goodness’ sake don’t buy it for anyone you’re hoping to ask out on a date any time soon.