Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

I’ve decided to revisit a book that found it’s way to me at the perfect time and, like all good books, it changed the way I see the world.

Words in Deep Blue arrived at the bookshop all parcelled up from the publishers one chilly November day in 2017, and as soon as I read the authors letter that came alongside it that evening, I felt an immediate kinship with the book and author, and from the very first page I was there with Henry & Rachel every step of the way. So in keeping with the theme of the book I’m writing the majority of this review in the form of letter. I hope you enjoy and are inspired to look at books in a different way, and maybe even to pick up a copy of Words in Deep Blue and join the characters on a journey together.

Words have the power to comfort us, to hurt us, to make us laugh or cry; they can swoop us back to a fond memory long forgotten or spur us onto the future yet uncharted; they can connect us to each other and have the power to fill a void in us. It can give us great comfort to know that someone, somewhere in existence has experienced exactly what we have and in a way it creates it an intimate connection between you and the author and book. I mean, how amazing is it that someone you may never meet or who is no longer with us can speak right to the very core of you – to help you make sense of things and to help you along through all the ups and downs that life can bring; and the author may never know the helping hand that they’ve leant, or the impact on the reader, but it could indeed change the course of a life. Words seem to me to be something very much like magic, and this book is filled with celebration of them!

Monday 9th November 2020

Dear Reader,

Have you ever wondered when looking at a secondhand book, who wrote the handwritten dedication on the front page? Who it is in the photograph you found in the cover of a hardback that’s now well worn around the edges from being carried around so much? Have you ever wondered about the journey the book in your hand has made from generation to generation to the present day? Who highlighted a certain paragraph or sentence and what it meant to them? Or indeed stumbled upon some notes made in the margin which somebody has taken the time to consider, think and jot down? I know I have being the book geek that I am, and it’s one of the reasons why I love scouring through my local secondhand bookshop & charity shops for the treasure troves of no-longer-published books or rare gems that you can clearly see have been loved and made a difference to a readers life, which is no doubt probably a rather romantic way to look at things, but I think we could probably all do with a little rose-tinted glass these days, and when it comes to stories, I say never forgo imagination for the mundane. So if you have ever had any of these thoughts, Words in Deep Blue may be a book for you.

At the heart of this bookish tale, (if you haven’t guessed it already) is the love for words and books, and it reminds us just how powerful these funny looking shaped squiggles which we scrawl each day with a pen or on our keyboards impacts on our lives, and it got me thinking about how we use them, what they mean to us and how they can shape our lives, especially through the way of letter writing. I’m still a sucker for writing letters, and continue to pen regular letters to a dear friend of mine as well as sending the occasional note or postcard from any travels taken (which is something that one of my best friends and I have kept up since childhood). I think it’s one of life’s little joys to receive a letter from a friend or loved one through the post – I know from receiving them that it has a knack of brightening up the day and the penmanship itself when doing the writing, is a mindful and comforting act which I hope doesn’t disappear completely from our modern world. But before I waffle on too much about the beauty of this book and the written word, I should perhaps introduce you to the characters of this tale first.

Set in Australia one summer, huckleberry friends Rachel and Henry meet after being apart for years. Once inseparable throughout childhood, the two have become slightly different versions of themselves since they last met – Rachel is no longer timid but angry at the world and Henry, although still the gentle being that he’s always been, is in love and ready to travel the world with his girlfriend who has other plans in mind. So when Rachel comes back to her hometown to stay with her aunt after having lost her younger brother to a tragic sea accident, she finds herself surrounded by past memories of a town that has pretty much stood unchanged in time unlike herself. Lost for something to do she is strung into working with Henry at his independent family bookshop Howling Books (which trust me, you’re going to wish were real) which is known for it’s local charm and it’s unusual ‘letter library’. Alongside Henry’s moody but brilliant teenage sister George, Rachel and Henry spend their days amongst the books, and with his parents who’s shop isn’t the only thing that are on the rocks, the five of them prepare to keep the bookshop afloat, as well as themselves.

One of the main things that I loved about Words in Deep Blue was it’s characters, and not just the two main characters either. All of the sub-characters to me were alive on the page, and I really appreciated that they were of all ages from teenagers to young adults, parental figures to elderly characters, the harmony of them all made me feel as if I were part of Gracetown too. I loved the variety of personalities and the little insights into many lives. Another part of the book that I loved was the idea of the ‘letter library’ and the setting of the bookshop itself, with it’s shelves and shelves of dusty books, it’s (sometimes) eccentric customers and the community that the shop brings to the town. The ‘letter library’ is something that I could ramble on about for paragraphs at a time, so I’ll save you from reading an essay but simply put, the ‘letter library’ consists of all of the history held in books – words circled, sentences marked, unconventional bookmarks marking a particular page, messages left and pages worn from reading and re-reading umpteen times, which complies as much of the readers history as it does the books. The following quote from the book pretty much sums it up for me ‘The memories are in the words. And from that the strange thought comes that my memories are trapped in all the copies of this poem, and so everyone who’s reading it, no matter what copy, has the memories without knowing it.’ This thought of memories and experiences transpiring through words from one person to another, through space and time, really fascinated me and reminded me the power that words have on changing the world.

Although much of the book is about the wonders of storytelling, it also very much deals with the growing pains of adolescence through to early adulthood, family and love in all of it’s forms, but the one string that ties all of this book and it’s readers together is the familiar concept of grief. Without it being downing or depressing, I came away feeling comforted that grief is a thing that shouldn’t be taboo or shied away from, but instead talked about and shared. At the end of the day, it’s something that, like it or not, we all experience and have in common with one another – be it grief due to the end of a relationship, the loss of a loved one or a change of happy circumstances & way of life; we all experience it and I came away with the feeling that maybe, if we all spoke about it a little more, the loneliness that often accompanies grief wouldn’t be quite so frightfully overwhelming, even if by just a smidgin. Perhaps if you knew that somebody had been through the same thing as yourself and come out the other side, it could make a small difference on the bumpy road that can sometimes feel isolating.

Throughout Rachels journey of dealing with the loss of her brother, the complex and powerful idea of memory, transmigration and the way that we experience and perceive space and time is humbly explored, and I found it was a rather extraordinary aspect of life to look at. As some of you may know, I’m a bit of a science geek, and so to have something explored that ignited both imagination and logic to help comprehend our experience of life was something that completely swept me away. Some of the thoughts that I have were perfectly explained through the following paragraph, and to experience a thought being put into a perfect string of words through the penmanship of another, is one of the most magical things about books and stories.

I fear that I may be making this book sound rather deep and complex, but I can promise that it’s very funny, completely comforting and a total escape to a town half the world away full of wonderful characters and a summer that will warm up any winter day. From Rachels best friend Rose and her blooming awesome band; to mishaps and those embarrassing moments that we all go through when growing up; to time spent with the lovely and wise Fredrick & Frieda and all whilst being surrounded by books. Words in Deep Blue is a love letter to life, words and everything in between.

I know I have probably rambled on far too long about this tale, but I hope that if you do decide to pick this book up or if it finds its way to you, that it gives you as much entertainment, comfort, company and escapism that it gave me, and it leaves you with a fresh love for the written word and this confusing but wonderful thing we call life.

Warmest Wishes,

Jaynie x

I see myself sitting behind the counter reading Dickens in Dad’s spot, talking to Frieda, the sun coming in the window and lighting up universes of dust and the relics that are secondhand books.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Thank you for reading this weeks blog, I really hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to get notified whenever I upload a new post, sign up to my newsletter below; and for more antics of a bookseller follow me on Instagram (@viewsfromabookshop) and Twitter (@jaynie.books). Take care and as always – happy reading!

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