'I write to try to see you as you were, or what you have become. You left no forwarding address: that was part of your intention. For when we wrote those letters to each other all those years ago, we wrote as much for ourselves as for each other. Promising to be in touch, you drifted out of the XL Cafe. Your perfume lingered. Arpege, that 's what it was, not LA 'Air du Temps. Jasmine and rose borne by musk with a hint of sparkling green in its depths. 'More than twenty years after the end of their love affair, Gabriel receives an unexpected and cryptic postcard from his old flame.It is the first of thirteen cards from her, each one provoking a series of reveries about their relationship and prompting Gabriel to write a letter to his ex-lover in which he dwells in sensuous detail on perfumes, clothes, conversations as he tries to recapture the spirit of their romance in 1980s Belfast. 'The Pen Friend' is, however, much more than a love story. As Gabriel teases out the significance of the cards, the layers of meaning in the images and messages, his reveries develop into richly textured meditations on writing, memory, spiritualism and surveillance. The result is an elaborate and intricate web of fact and fiction, a narrative that marries sharp historical insights with imaginative exuberance, a strange and wonderful novel confirming Ciaran Carson a son of Ireland's most exciting writers.