Letters to Colin Firth
Letters to Colin Firth
By Katherine Riegel
Sundress Publications, 2015
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk
Count me among those who fell in love with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. And then again as (Mark) Darcy—perfect and hilarious casting!—in Bridget Jones’s Diary. And again pretty much every time I see him in a film, from Love, Actually to The Railway Man, or A Single Man or The King’s Speech or Kingsman: The Secret Service, and, yes, as Henry Dashwood, the dad dancing in leather pants in What a Girl Wants.
So you know where I stand.
That said, I fell in love with Letters to Colin Firth, by Katherine Riegel.
It’s a chapbook of letters that are sort of prose poems or something in between letters and poems, in the voice of someone in between a marriage and a new love, in between homes, and moving back and forth between happiness and confused sadness, but not quite ever landing in complete despair.
You can binge read this book of thirty poems, for the thirty days of April—dated as such, the way letters should be—just as you might binge watch the BBC series. That’s what I do every few years, watching a VHS tape of Pride and Prejudice that my mother-in-law taped from Miami television, commercials and all. I delight in Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and in the harried dad in the car commercial, pushing his kid through the toy store in a shopping cart, grabbing diapers and then pausing, lovestruck, to gaze at a giant red car through the cellophane window of a giant box. So I also delighted in Riegel’s reference, in the letter of April 2, to “VCR instructions, which you are (thankfully) old enough to remember.”
Yes, all the letters are addressed to Colin, but they are much more than fan letters. They respect his privacy and mention his wife, and also the letter writer’s own (British!) lover. They establish a friendly intimacy that somehow remains formal and appropriately distant while revealing personal details and recounting dreams about Firth and Patrick Stewart (another shared crush. Sigh…).
I didn’t know this about Colin Firth, revealed gently in the very first letter: “And I read that you have, like me, struggled with depression, that you own up to those moments so many of us have where we look up at the moon and just can’t figure out what the fuck we’re standing here for; and that you love to read, which makes you a good person to any writer.”
Really, what’s not to love in Letters to Colin Firth? There’s plenty to love, in addition to the actor: horses, the color green, tea with half-and-half or real cream, gin.
I love particular phrases:
…the whole world smelled like lilacs—even your hand, that warm splay of twigs, flowering in mine.
…to live in the secret revolutions of dark and light inside your own ribcage…
…the knife a goose feather cutting through the air to glide along my clavicle soft as a kiss.
This whole devastating, wonderful letter about hope:
One afternoon when we were kids my brother was thirsty, so he lifted the old pump handle but instead of water wasps came out. This is not a metaphor, though it could be. Only for most people this happens not once but again and again, and the best we can hope for is not to learn that every possible good thing could come out stinging but to keep admitting our thirst and to open our mouths anyway.
In addition, I love the coincidence of central Illinois; the letter writer is staying there with her sister before returning to Florida to sell a house, the house she lived in with her now ex-husband. I live in central Illinois and have been reading and re-reading these letters in the same sunshine they mention! I mention that coincidence to help convey the intimacy achieved by Riegel’s delicate use of the letter form—she reached me, and I hope she actually reached Colin Firth. I hope she sent him the book, or will, and I hope he reads it. I have a feeling he’ll love it, too.
[and look for 4 more at Hotel Amerika in 2016!]