Cath Crowley’s novel Words in Deep Blue is a fiction book written from the two perspectives of main characters Rachel and Henry. Rachel returns to her hometown Gracetown, after three years, due to the death of her brother in Sea Ridge, where she shared a home with him and their mother. Already within the first chapter there’s a story-line of death in the family, along with having to face Henry, after three years of no communication, due to an unanswered love letter, she wrote to him in the lines of his favorite poem. Henry, on top of being heartbroken over the love of his life Amy, confused as to why Rachel has ignored him for three years, is also dealing with his family’s dilemma of whether or not to sell their book shop. His father bought the book shop twenty years prior, but is now struggling to compete with the new digital age. Rachel’s aunt Rose, whom she moves in with, forces her to get a summer job at the book shop, meaning she will not only have to worry about bumping into Henry, but also working with him multiple days a week. If you’re a sucker for a triad of love, loss, and literature, this is a must read.
In the book shop there is a section called the “Letters Library.” Anyone can leave anonymous letters to each other and put them back on the shelf. The book and poem choices are definitely not a random selection of the author. The three main ones, throughout the whole story are, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, and Pride Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. In my opinion they are a statement that the world needs both literature and science. We need the great scientists just as much as we need the great poets. Whos to say Hemingway and Darwin couldn’t of been friends? Imagine the conversation at that dinner table.
These books does tie perfectly into the contrast between Henry and Rachel’s personalities. She tends to lean towards practical and scientific attributes, while Henry is pretty much an emotional embodiment of all the poetry and books he’s read. Which, you can’t really blame the guy being raised in a bookshop. As well as you can’t blame Rachel for her skepticism, from everything she’s going through. Everyone must go through the loss of a loved one, or someone close to them, at some point in their lives. We see how the death of Rachel’s brother Cal affects everyone differently, specifically Rachel and her Mother. Rachel, having failed her senior year of high school due to this loss, spends her summer questioning life and death. Most importantly, how to move on and cope when the whole world keeps going, whether you’re ready or not.
Going back to the dilemma Henry’s family is having at selling the book shop, we get this understanding, especially in our day in age, of how hard copies, especially second-hand copies, are not doing so well in competing with other, more readily available copies, in our age of technological reliance. I believe Crowley is using this side-plot to make a statement on just how important books and words are. In relation to the Letter Library, you can’t share that kind of history on a downloaded IBook. In relation to the books chosen, Cloud Atlas is a science fiction book, that relies on passed down lifetimes and documentation, to understand the communal ending. Pride Prejudice and Zombies, yes a modernized and sci-fi based, could not have been made without Jane Austen. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” though not mixing science with literature like the others, is loaded. The author is explains love in bits and pieces of other people, with multiple themes of time, being stuck, and not wanting things to change. The end is actually quite sad. In my opinion, I love the allusions that all of these works bring to the table, in relation to the overall message of the book, but If someone were to have not read them, I don’t think it would impact them as strongly as someone who has. There’s also a subtle mention of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury which, shocker, is about what happens to society when there are no books. In terms of what was left out, I think it could have been more noted that evolution of technology is not so much a bad thing.
I think everything is leading up to the overall message that we need words and books and literature. No matter how outdated books get, we live on in the words. We grow up and we learn to read and write. When we die the words remain, to affect another person, and another, and so on. Words are communication. Words are how we created laws, famous speeches that moved people, songs and poems for lovers. Words affect us, they sometimes sting, sometimes they’re sweet, but overall they make us feel something. Rachel was numb until she came back to the bookshop and started working with Henry. Unable to continue her life because she had shut down and turned cynical. Henry reacted to everything like Shakespeare after a couple shots of tequila. So emotional that it blinded him from the truth of many things he had once thought, then Rachel came back and pulled his head out of the clouds. Both extremes were no good, but together, like poetry and science, balance out the scale. I think they both learned how to pick up the pieces and that change and growth is necessary. Everything is built off of the past, but that doesn’t mean we stay in it too. They both learned that you can’t hold onto something for so long that it affects you from living your life. The whole point of science and literature is that we needed the original theories or books, in order to build up to what we have today.
Crowley, Cath. “Words In Deep Blue.” Random House Children’s Books. 2016.