Fans and reviewers alike waited with bated breath for Nick Bantock's The Golden Mean, hoping for a conclusion that would solve the mysteries in the first two books of the trilogy. There was so much anticipation and fear of leaks that the publishers sent out review copies without the final pages. This fear proved to be unfounded, however, as even after publication when all had access to the ending, reviewers refused to reveal the conclusion. This hesitancy to reveal the ending carried on not just for the first month, but even until Christmastime, when one reviewer said that "only a Grinch would ruin that surprise" (Miller, F5).
It was obvious from early on that the ending of the books would be the focal point for reviewers and readers alike. But while many focused on the ending, they often disagreed about what it meant or how effective it was. Many reviewers expressed concern that the final volume of the trilogy did not provide the closure expected or desired. Illustrative are the following reviews: "Bantock declines to tie up his story with a neat bow", "Bantock plays the puzzle out through his trilogy with near-maddening innuendo, never saying quite enough to provide the 'Eureka!' moment of final, definite comprehension" and "we quite happily and satisfyingly continue to wonder what Bantock really means long after the book's conclusion" (Deans Earle C2, Miller F5, Holt 1). Not all reviewers agreed with this view, however. Andrews called the ending "conclusive" and Ward went so far as to say that "it all wraps up rather predictably" (1, B7BOO).
As noted, reviewers were not the only ones to discuss the ending of the book. A St. Petersburg Times reader wrote to the paper in response to its review, voicing her dismay at her inability to understand the ending. She had gone through various channels (reading the review, contacting the publisher and even writing to the author) to try to discover the solution. When all of these methods failed, she sent a letter pleading for fellow readers to send in their theories ("A Puzzle and a Plea", 5D). The paper then collected these ideas and published some of the responses. They ranged from morose to researched to humorous: "Griffin does not find Sabine in Alexandria. I suspect he now lives in seclusion trying to concentrate on his art while recovering from a nervous breakdown"; "Griffin and Sabine are unable, both physically and in their minds, to truly meet in each other's familiar territory. They must find a 'golden mean,' defined in my American Heritage Dictionary as 'the course between extremes: moderation.' And so they are able to meet in Alexandria, a 'neutral place.'"; "Griffin and Sabine are actually the Taster's Choice couple" ("Probing the Puzzle of Griffin & Sabine Series", 4D).
While the ending was certainly a hot topic amongst the readership, it was not the only aspect of the book discussed. Three other features were fairly consistently addressed. The first, which ties in with the ambiguity of the ending, is that the book can be understood on a variety of levels. A reader can simply look at the top layer and see a love story or can look deeper and ponder the "references to things like Oriental philosophy, Jungian psychology and alchemy" not to mention the connection to Yeats that Bantock gives as a clue to another level of understanding (Deans Earle, B1). The second is that the book's illustrations and iconography are beautifully rendered. The images are pleasing to the eye in addition to acting as a storytelling medium. Lastly, reviewers talk of the book's appeal to the nearly universal desire to read someone else's mail. Unlike other epistolary novels that simply reprint the words onto the page, Bantock gives readers the full experience of opening envelopes and taking an intimate look at another person's life written in their own hand giving the books a "voyeuristic, forbidden aspect" (Groth, 5C).
Although most reviewers conceded that these three points helped to explain why people would be drawn to read The Golden Mean, some were not as generous in their views of how successful these elements were used and represented, but even in these cases, the criticism was couched in compliment. Krueger stated that "both the drawings and the text sit on the edge of being a trifle precious and pretentious, although I tend to think that author and illustrator Nick Bantock subverts the over-serious elements by the playful form he has chosen" (G15). Matsumoto echoes concerns about an unsatisfying ending: "Bantock uses a melodramatic plot line and some heavy-handed psychology to get a conclusion that is almost too oblique to satisfy his loyal followers. But like its predecessors, The Golden Mean is paved with enough exquisite, fanciful and disturbing images to allow smooth skating over any subterranean bumps" (37). Andrews nearly compares the books to junk food including its addictive quality: "I have always felt the Griffin & Sabine books were a nice confection, a good-looking gimmick; the book as performance art. Well, they are a confection, but I must admit that after reading the third book, I'm going to miss these two telepathic artists" (EC4).
Lesley Krueger's review ends with a statement that summarizes most reactions to the book: "All three books are refreshingly themselves: new, odd and certainly very lovely to look at. Yet, other readers might well feel rubbed the wrong way. Here's a test. Do you like the rockers Sting and U2? Even when they're taking themselves just a leetle too seriously? Then you should meet Griffin and Sabine" (G15).
It is not surprising that the pretentious nature of the trilogy spawned a parody. This parody of the first book, and to some extent of the trilogy, was published in 1994. Sheldon and Mrs. Levine, An Excruciating Correspondence, written by Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein, is the story of the relationship between a recently divorced man and his Jewish mother as told through letters between the two. As of 2006, this parody is out of print.
Andrews, Marke. "Griffin and Sabine Bring Their Romance To An End, We Think!" Vancouver Sun 3 Sept 1993, final ed.: EC4.
Deans Earle, Peggy. "Fitting Final Piece In Lovely Puzzle." Virginian [Norfolk, VA] 17 Oct 1993, final ed.: C2.
Deans Earle, Peggy. "The Love of Griffin & Sabine Third Book Will 'Solve' Best-Selling Romance." Virginian [Norfolk, VA] 11 Aug 1993, final ed.: B1.
Groth, Chuck. "Image Maker Nick Bantock Proves That Picture Books Aren't Just For Children." St. Louis Post Dispatch 13 Oct 1993, five star ed.: 1F.
Groth, Chuck. "New Puzzles Reveal Bantock At His Best." St. Louis Post Dispatch 10 Oct 1993, five star ed.: 5C.
Holt, Patricia. "The Final Letters of Griffin and Sabine 'The Golden Mean' Closes Out A Mesmerizing Trilogy." San Francisco Chronicle 22 Aug 1993, Sunday ed.: 1.
Krueger, Lesley. "Soft, Strong, Pops Up Too." Toronto Star 2 Oct 1993, SA2 ed.: G15.
Lyall, Sarah. "Book Notes." New York Times 3 Nov 1993, late Ed. (east coast): C20.
Masters, John. "The Mystery of Griffin & Sabine." Toronto Star 12 Sept 1993, SU2 ed.: D1.
Matsumoto, Nancy. "Picks & Pans - The Golden Mean By Nick Bantock." People Weekly 8 Nov 1993: 37-38.
Miller, Melinda. "Puzzling Pen Pals Sign Off." Buffalo News 2 Jan 1994, final ed.: F5.
Pate, Nancy. "A Masterful Illusion." Oregonian [Portland, OR] 12 Sept 1993, fourth ed.: J2.
"Probing the Puzzle of Griffin & Sabine Series." St. Petersburg Times 6 Feb 1994, city ed.: 4D.
"A Puzzle and a Plea." St. Petersburg Times 16 Jan 1994, city ed.: 5D.
"Puzzling Mystery, Mystery Puzzle." Christian Science Monitor [Boston, MA] 9 Nov 1993, all 11/09/93 ed.
Steinberg, Sybil. "The Golden Mean: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin and Sabine Concludes." Publishers Weekly 2 Aug 1993: 62-63.
Ward, Tim. "Griffin-Sabine Finale Too Predictable." Ottawa Citizen 30 Oct 1993, final ed.: B7BOO.