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Monday, August 29, 2016

'Words in Deep Blue' by Cath Crowley

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:  
Second-hand bookshops are full of mysteries  
This is a love story. 
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets, to words. 
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea. 
Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal. She's looking for the future in the books people love, and the words that they leave behind.  
Sometimes you need the poets


‘Words in Deep Blue’ is the new contemporary young adult book from Australian favourite, Cath Crowley.

Crowley’s ‘Words in Deep Blue’ is her first new book since 2010’s extraordinary ‘Graffiti Moon’ – and it was worth the wait. It’s a book about books – about loving, reading, and imprinting on books – with the story pivoting around a second-hand bookshop called Howling Books, where a long-lost friend returns to escape grief, and where a family unit and all its individual members have love lives that are well and truly in the in the tumults. It’s mostly the story of Rachel and Henry – once best friends, until Henry fell for a girl called Amy, and Rachel confessed her love only to move away. It’s a story about the Letter Library that resides in Howling Books, where people are encouraged to write in the margins, underline, and use books as conversations to be had with other readers. It’s a book about finding the right book at the right time.

But before I get into just how much I loved this particular book, I want to tell you all about this 2015 article I read in The New Yorker that stays with me. It was by Adam Gopnik, and titled ‘When a Bookstore Closes, an Argument Ends.’ I have a favourite line from that article, and it’s something I kept thinking about while reading ‘Words in Deep Blue’ (indeed; I got so caught up in this story and its wisdom, and especially the characters – that I wanted nothing more than to print out a copy of Gopnik’s article and leave it for Henry or his father Michael, folded into a book in their Letter Library). Here is that line of Gopik’s that I love;

At a minor level, once a bookstore is gone we lose the particular opportunities for adjacency it offers, determined by something other than an algorithm. It is rarely the book you came to seek, but the book next to that book, which changes your mind and heart.

The pivotal setting of ‘Words in Deep Blue’ being Howling Books – a second-hand bookshop – is nothing short of genius. On one level, a book about books is just catnip for readers, and young adult readers especially. And Cath Crowley gets very meta in this book, where she frequently title-drops and author-drops the names of works and writers she loves dearly. Be prepared to read this book with a notepad and pen beside you, so you can quickly jot down the books mentioned that you’ll definitely want to check out later. From John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ to Kirsty Eagar’s ‘Summer Skin’, ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’, Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, and the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges – this is Crowley revealing quite personal parts of herself, I feel, in the books she loves and has loved. Readers will feel a spark of joy and closeness to the author when they read one of the characters espousing dearly about a book they likewise adore, just as I did with this remembered exchange between father and son;

He and I have had hundreds of conversations about the characters in books. The last one we had was about Vernon God Little, a book by D.B.C. Pierre. I’d love it enough to read twice. 
‘What did you love?’ Dad had asked. 
‘Vernon,’ I’d said, naming the main character. ‘And the way it’s critiquing America. But mainly it’s the language. It’s like he’s left the words out in the sun to buckle a while, and they don’t sound like you’d expect.’

I also loved that this is a book about imprinting on books – which means highlighting, scribbling in the margins, and dog-earing – all the things some bibliophiles get horrified over the very notion! But I am an avowed dog-earer, under-liner, margin-scribbler and I’m glad the characters in ‘Words in Deep Blue’ are too. I’m of the firm belief that creases and scribbles in a book are like laugh-lines on a face – signs of love.

This is also a book about loving the places where books can be found and talked about – flesh and bone books, with spines and smells and heft. Though its setting is a second-hand bookshop, the way these characters talk about finding books and connecting with people over stories is in itself a love letter to all bookshops, and libraries, friends who loan their copies, street libraries and any place else that good books and the people who recommend them can be found;

‘I read an article that said second-hand books will be relics eventually,’ I tell him, still trying to make excuses for how things went tonight. 
'Do you know what the word relic actually means, the dictionary definition?’ he asks, offering me the prawn crackers. 
I take one and tell him I don’t know. 
‘It means sacred,’ he says, breaking his cracker in half. ‘As in “the bones of saints.”’

What’s kind of ironic and meta in this book about loving books though, is that all those authors and stories Crowley’s characters mention? Just as many people would list Crowley’s own works amongst the greats that have changed and upheaved them.

‘Words in Deep Blue’ is also a love-story … or, a few love stories really. Rachel and Henry take centre-stage for much of the book, as their history of unrequited love and friends-to-more unfolds amidst grief, jealousy and heartbreak, to eventually evolve into acceptance, forgiveness and revelation. There’s also Henry’s sister, George, who has a secret letter-writing admirer and a boy from school who wants to break through her tough exterior and become friends. Then there’s Henry’s parents whose great love story is in its final throes, and Henry and Rachel’s mutual friend Lola whose great love is music and the band she’s been dreaming about for years.

Anyone who has ever read any of Cath Crowley’s books knows that her characters are exquisite, and those in ‘Words in Deep Blue’ are no exception. I remember a long time ago (2013, to be exactly exaggerated) and Cath Crowley wrote in her blog about what I can only assume now was writing this very book. She said;

‘I keep hoping that one day I’ll find a shortcut, a door that takes me from one novel into the next. Takes me straight from Ed and Lucy’s kiss, through a small gap in the air, onto the street where Giselle and Charlie are waiting. Or even better, couldn’t I just walk a little way down the road, and have them existing on different streets in the same world?’
 
I know Crowley was writing about the frustration of finding story, but as one of her readers and biggest fans I wish for it too, on a fundamentally non-fictional level. I think the best way to describe how much I love Cath Crowley’s books is to say how much I want the characters to be real people that I could go visit. I’d love nothing more than to go from watching one of Gracie’s soccer matches, to hearing Charlie Duskin sing and seeking out new Shadow street-art – and now visiting Howling Books to tell Henry that my absolute favourite poem is Anna Akhmatova’s ‘You Will Hear Thunder’, so I could lend him my Everyman's Library Pocket Poets book of hers.

I loved these characters. I loved Henry and Rachel’s enduring friendship amidst complication. I loved meeting Cal in letters. I adored George’s bite;

‘What are you reading?’ he asks this afternoon. 
‘Kafka’s Metamorphosis,’ George says, without looking up. 
‘And what’s it about?’ 
‘Guy turns into a giant bug and eventually dies.’ 
‘Not exactly life-affirming,’ Martin observes. 
‘Life isn’t exactly life-affirming,’ George says.

And my Gosh, did I love reading new words from Cath Crowley. She has a way with language that’s poetically blunt when necessary, or can be languidly lush and is just utterly genius – and there’s just as much to admire in her words as the great wordsmiths her characters esteem.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged according to George, that shit days generally get more shit. Shit nights roll into shit morning that roll into shit afternoons and back into shit starless midnights. Shitness, my sister says, has a momentum that good luck just doesn’t have. I’m an optimist but tonight I’m coming around to her way of thinking.

I loved ‘Words in Deep Blue’. I waited six years for it, but I fell in love after the first page, and by the last it was a new favourite.

5/5

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