Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brief Review: The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy

Griffin & Sabine - An Extraordinary Correspondence (1991)
Sabine's Notebook: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Continues (1992)
The Golden Mean: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Concludes (1993)

Written and illustrated by Nick Bantock
Published by Chronicle Books

Somehow I managed to avoid reading any of Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine books back in the '90s when they were all the rage. So when the Art History Reading Challenge came along, I decided to remedy that situation. The books that make up the first trilogy are just about 50 pages each; so, together, they form something of a novella-length story.

In the first book, London artist Griffin Moss receives his first missive from Sabine Strohem – a note complimenting him on a decision he has made to alter one of the handmade postcards he designs. This mystifies Griffin, as he works alone and never discusses his design process with anyone. He has never met or even heard of Sabine before; but he responds, begging her to tell him how she knows about his changes to his original design. When Sabine replies, she tells him "I share your sight," and explains that in her mind she can see his work as he creates it, even though she lives many miles from him – in another country, in fact. And so their correspondence (which truly is, as the subtitle claims, extraordinary) begins, and gradually becomes ever more intimate, romantic, and astounding.

Griffin fantasizes about Sabine, and is by turns, powerfully obsessed and repelled by their strange situation. Over the course of this and the next two books, the relationship grows and the two make plans to meet. They also face the problem of a sinister intruder who wants to study their "psychic" connection.

These books were a joy to read. There are wonderful illustrations on every page, and the story unfolds as the reader examines the cards and letters that pass between the two artists (many of the letters are in actual envelopes). Their individual personalities and outlooks are exposed through their correspondence and their very different artistic styles – Griffin's in his postcards, and Sabine's in the postage stamps she designs for her South Pacific island home, and the whimsical doodles she includes on each of her cards and letters. And all through the series runs the question of just how much is real and how much exists only in Griffin's imagination. Or in Sabine's.

The trilogy ends with one final, rather enigmatic postcard – which leaves an obvious opening for further adventures in the future. And I was very excited to find that there is, indeed, yet another volume in the series – The Gryphon: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Is Rediscovered. Can't wait to get my hands on that next installment!


  1. I read the first in the 90s and loved it. I wonder if I still have it around somewhere.

  2. This book was special to myself and my love. She introduced it to me as a present. I found it very inspirational, over the following year I added my own letters, added to the art on the pages with my own poems, thoughts, stamps, pictures, drawings, and items dear to me, and presented it back to her. It brought us together in an exceptional way. This is not just a book!


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