‘Books, like lovers, mark and change us, and in turn, we mark and change them.’ Cath Crowley has written an article in our September issue about second-hand bookshops and the things she found between old pages that inspired her new novel, Words in Deep Blue. Read on for a review of the book by our editorial assistant, Angus.
Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon was released when I was in Year 10, grappling with the archaic lilt of Shakespeare and the cold prose of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
Words were regimented things painstakingly shoved into documents until assignments were complete. My sentences would come back slashed with red marks that told me words should be strung together like this, not like that, and to stop being so bloody fanciful, this is an essay, not a letter to your nanna.
Cath Crowley taught me otherwise; that words should be thrilling and gritty and strange; that they can put an ache in your chest and raise your arm hairs like static. Graffiti Moon kept me up past midnight wondering about Shadow, the enigmatic street-artist ‘with the ocean pouring out of his can’, and gritting my teeth as four teenagers carry out a high-risk heist. All the while a love story unfolds, described as a marshmallow exploding in a microwave.
Six years later, when I’m stuck in a rut of stories about marriage and murder and romance evoked with as much lustre as a pile of wet newspaper, Cath Crowley re-ignites the awe of words she originally instilled in me with Words in Deep Blue.
Henry’s family runs a second-hand bookshop called Howling Books. He’s just out of Year 12, working in the bookshop to scrape together savings that will take him on a round-the-world trip with his girlfriend, Amy. But one night, lying between the shelves of the self-help section that’s usually the scene of their afterhours make-out sessions, Amy informs Henry that she’s leaving him.
At the same time, Henry’s old best friend, Rachel, returns from the coastal town she moved to from the city a few years ago. Unbeknownst to Henry, she’s fleeing the ocean because her brother, Cal, drowned. She dreams of him: ‘a long frail arc that disappears into sea.’
Rachel takes up work in the bookshop, cataloguing ‘The Letter Library’. It’s a special section of the shop in which the books aren’t for sale. People come and write messages to each other on the pages of their favourite titles. Lovers argue in the margins of Great Expectations, secret letters are left in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and conversations about death are scrawled into Cloud Atlas.
Words in Deep Blue is a romance between characters as real as the pages they spring from. Rachel confronts the ghosts Cal left behind. Henry struggles between his love for the shambling bookshop and his yearning for Amy. Henry’s sullen cynic of a sister, George, begrudgingly falls for an anonymous letter-writer. Their parents are faced with having to sell the beloved bookstore to developers upon their divorce. Characters’ conversations are recorded in cracking, funny dialogue and quirky letters left between pages.
This novel celebrates stories while telling a hilarious, sad and gorgeous narrative in its own right. Each copy will be passed eagerly between friends, destined to gather dog-ears, dust motes and pencil-marks underlining phrases that gleam like fragments of upturned abalone shell in the sand.
Five stars Pan Macmillan $18.99.