Lovely lost letters 

Book Review: The Pharos Gate: Griffin and Sabine's Lost Correspondence by Nick Bantock

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - 'Something very human' Author Nick Bantock is reading at the Whistler Writers Festival on Friday, Oct. 14.
  • PHOTO submitted
  • 'Something very human' Author Nick Bantock is reading at the Whistler Writers Festival on Friday, Oct. 14.

Whistler hosts the 2016 Writers Festival from Oct. 13 to 16. Pique is running book reviews by attending authors to celebrate. For information and tickets:

In 1995, I was an undergraduate at Trent University in Ontario, writing letters to loved ones on a small word processor nestled somewhere on the floor between my desk and dormitory bed. Writing letters helped soothe homesickness and ease first-year college blues.

There was something very human about putting words onto paper; folding them tightly into an envelope for delivery and waiting patiently for a reply. Weeks would pass and a letter would arrive at my door. I remember that tactile feeling of slicing an envelope open; reading the letter aloud until the words sank deep and then putting it away for safe keeping.

By the late '90s the digital age had replaced letters with electronic ones.

Longing to hold someone's words in my hands again made reading Nick Bantock's latest book, The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine's Lost Correspondence incredibly comforting. The Pharos Gate is the fourth book in a series of epistolary correspondences between two mythological lovers who have never met. Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem are artists living oceans apart; Griffin in London and Sabine on a small island in the South Pacific.

They send hand-painted postcards and envelopes, each an exquisite piece of artwork in an array of textures, colours and gentle hues; illustrating the artists' shifting moods. The reader experiences their love letters in such intimate ways that even removing them from an envelope affixed to the inside of a page is a tactile pleasure. In one such letter, Griffin writes to Sabine as he is sitting inside the Alhambra in Granada, Spain: "I really wanted you here, seeing all of this with me, so I concentrated my thoughts on your Moorish eyes and tried to invoke you as a shape-shifting mauresque drifting through the palace."

Griffin and Sabine's words are at times so sublime that their magical characters seem to leap off the pages. Sabine writes to Griffin as she is leaving Bali for Egypt: "As I stare into the night I am thinking of all I would do for you... if it be your will, I shall take down the moon and place it before your feet."

Pursued by the evil figure Frolatti, Griffin and Sabine circle the globe certain that they will finally meet at the Pharos Gate in Alexandria. Their journey isn't without peril but it is through their metaphysical correspondence that they stay steadfast in their goals to unite.

The Pharos Gate comes 25 years after the first book in the series was published, but it can be read as a single experience. This book is for anyone missing that endearing physical feeling of opening up a letter and devouring its words whole.

Nick Bantock will read with Katherine Fawcett at the Literary Cabaret on Friday, Oct. 14, from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Tickets are $22 at


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