“I want to meet you in every place I ever loved.”
How much did I love this book? Let me count the ways:
I loved it for all it’s playful revelling in language, celebrating words, communication, letters (in all their forms). And, as Red and Blue’s relationship developed over the course of their correspondence, I loved that they developed something of a common language, echoing each other.
I loved the two far far futures that Red and Blue represent, and the very paradox of their romance. As they both work for their own future’s success, they do so knowing that it will preclude the other’s existence. I was fascinated by all the hints and glimpses of Red’s technological world, in which a body is heavily augmented, minds ‘decant’ into bodies for sport and food is obsolete. Equally, I enjoyed exploring Blue’s super-biological future with its ‘neural pollen’ and ‘honey libraries’. The sheer alien-ness of these two futures is so frigging cool. Even more so the similarities between them.
I loved the humour. Most notable at the beginning as Red and Blue first start to work out a neutral space within the letters in which they can tease one another without teeth. I particularly enjoyed their references to Mrs Leavitt’s Guide to Etiquette and Correspondence as they played with modes of address and postscripts. And Red’s response to Blue’s invitation to try out “scented inks and seals” had me howling with laughter, (I didn’t see it coming).
I loved, too, the ways in which the letters were transmitted. These are not letters as we think of them, written on paper, sealed and sent. They can’t be that. Instead they are mostly unkeepable, momentary, hidden within something else: in the growth rings of a tree or within a lava flow, in the swirl of loose tea leaves in tea or in the warp and weft of a cloth. It perfectly captures the hope and faith that letters require – writing from and in a particular moment in time, then sending your letter out into the world to find its intended recipient. Red and Blue’s letters feel even more like acts of faith – placed to be found as if by chance, potentially easily overlooked if the other wasn’t paying attention. (Steganography is a beautiful word – say it out loud, doesn’t it feel lovely? – that I’d never come across before reading this book, and that I now absolutely need to find out more about).
I loved the thousand sensory details that made the story real, when it could have been aloof in its very far-future-ness. Even the description of time as a braid, made up of strands, woven and re-woven by Red and Blue and other operatives of their kind, feels present and understandable.
I loved how, in such a short space of pages, the story built up from playful to intense as the stakes increased. The two come to face the possibility that they have been found out, and that they may lose one another. The Seeker’s ghostly presence seems ominous, although I have to say that I figured out pretty quickly who the Seeker actually was, if not why, but still the question hangs in the air: Is this whole thing a long-con after all? The book begins with Red taking a chance on a letter that could be a trap and ends with Blue having to make that very same decision. Faith is required in love as well as in letters. In books too.
And I loved that the novel reads like a sonnet almost, El-Mohtar and Gladstone’s writing being inherently poetic, the structure of the story following a strict pattern, and the conclusion making the required turn, or volta. It’s a stunningly beautiful book, and one that I am looking forward to reading again and again, so that I can re-appreciate sentences such as:
“Summer settles like a bee on clover – golden, busy, here then gone.”
“There’s a kind of time travel in letters, isn’t there? … You could leave me for five years, you could return never – and I have to write the rest of this not knowing.”
And most especially, this:
“I love you. I love you. I love you. I’ll write it in waves. In skies. In my heart. You’ll never see, but you will know. I’ll be all the poets, I’ll kill them all and take each one’s place in turn, and every time love’s written in all the strands it will be to you.”
And you know how I hate romance!