This is a love story. It’s the story of a second-hand bookshop called Howling Books where people leave letters to strangers, or those they love, or want to love, between the pages of books in the Letter Library.
Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie are best friends. Or they were. Before Rachel moved away to the sea. Now, she’s back, grieving for her brother Cal who drowned in the sea that he loved.
Rachel loves Henry. Henry loves Amy. Amy loves Amy but is happy for Henry to love her too.
This is a book about books. About the power of literature to cradle our past, present and future selves. It’s about how we leave ourselves behind when we die. How we leave our histories in the things we love – like books.
Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon is one of my all time favourite books, so I was eagerly anticipating her next offering. Words in Deep Blue was a worthy installment, characterised by the author’s exquisite writing. It did lack some of the glorious humour of Graffiti Moon, but considering the subject matter dealt with in this book, this fact is entirely understandable. There was just one major problem I had with Words in Deep Blue, which I’ll tackle later on in this review.
But firstly, the setting. Books involving bookstores or libraries are always kryptonite for me – I suppose its something to do with seeing our love of books represented in a story, viewed through the lens of characters who appreciate them as much as we the readers do. And Howling Books sounds like a pretty fantastic book-lovers paradise – couches and mysterious letter-leavings and all.
“You start at ten, tomorrow morning. Sophia said she was looking for someone with people and computer skills, and that describes you perfectly.”
“I no longer have people skills.”
“This is true, but I chose not to share that with her.”
The book is a thoughtful exploration of grief, of having to rebuild your life after you’ve simply stopped living it. Rachel failed her last year of school, will not be heading to uni like her peers, and her family have virtually become islands unto their own sadness. So she returns to the city where she and her brother grew up, keeping the secret of her brother’s death and slowly beginning to take the steps back to a new kind of normalcy.
Of course, this also means she ends up encountering former (one-sided) love and ex-best friend, Henry of the Howling Books establishment. And what can I say about Henry? His naivety certainly grated on my nerves. He was so blinded by love that he allowed himself to be continuously treated like shit by his on-and-off again girlfriend, Amy. However, that’s also understandable, if annoying to witness. People do indeed put up with awful behavior when besotted.
But herein lies my issue with the book that I mentioned initially. Amy is a completely one-dimensional character. It would be different if we at least saw some redeeming qualities in her to explain Henry’s devotion, but she’s nothing more than a vapid prop, and a foil for Rachel.
“Do you mind? I’m having a private moment here, Rachel.”
I crouch on the floor beside him. “Here’s a tip for a private moment: don’t have it on the floor of the girls’ toilets.”
“The girls?” he asks.
“The added extras didn’t give it away?”
He lifts his head and squints at the unit in the opposite corner. “Not a mailbox?”
“Not a mailbox, Henry,”
I am, however, a sucker for second-chance romance, despite my complaints. Although the romancing really does only feature near the end of the book. I am, however, completely okay with this. The journey is Rachel’s, and grief is not cured by a man-love. Henry is just a nice, supportive added extra.
“I forget. Do you stand under a pole in a lightning storm?” Henry asks, moving faster up High Street.
“Sure, and it helps if you can find a puddle too,” I tell him.
“We don’t stand under a pole,” he says.
“We don’t stand under a pole,” I confirm.
The side character of George and her hopeful romance were also delightful and heartbreaking to witness. I also appreciated the depiction of imperfect families – who sometimes have to rally and make-do despite the circumstances – but there will not be a happy ending, just a new normal.
Overall, another gem from Crowley. Her work is certainly worth the wait.
It has something to do with Cal being in a library along with other people who no longer exist in the world. The traces of them are hidden, small lines in books. In a library from which no one can borrow.