Book Review: Tamsin

I mentioned a few weeks ago how I struck I was by Peter S. Beagle’s use of detail in his book Tamsin, only 30 pages in. Now that I’ve finished the book (well, last week, but I’ve recently had four wisdom teeth and an additional two back lower molars extracted, so I haven’t really felt like doing anything, much less blog-writing. If you’re interested, they’ve mostly healed up, except for the back lower right socket, which is currently stuffed with something medicated, which tastes overwhelmingly of oil of cloves) I feel the need to gush further about just how great this book was.

It was crammed full of details, believable, beautiful, lush, juicy details. The characterizations were fantastic, quirky enough, and so honestly, achingly* human. But I think that’s Beagle’s trademark, the achingly human. Although, the animals in his novels are often achingly themselves, and that holds true of TLU’s unicorn, the raven from A Fine and Private Place, and Tamsin’s Mister Cat, who reminded me so much at one point of my lost Mango (despite having a rather different personality), that I was sad and weepy for a morning.

I think that is Beagle’s greatest strength: his writing is so familiar to the interior world. The touchstones in his fantastic worlds are personalities, and quirks, and feelings. Like good literature should, I suppose, though it feels snooty to say so.

Tamsin is a ghost, and becomes close friends with our young narrator. Jennifer, 19 in the nebulous present, is writing down these events that occurred when she was 15. This is the supernatural set-up. But there’s a wealth of ‘real’ details that make this fabulous reading, the move from New York to a shabby farm in Dorset, England, all the inter-family politics as Jenny’s mother remarries her English farmer, Jenny’s own misery and grumpiness and being uprooted, the absolute horror of having her beloved Mister Cat put in a six-month quarantine. There is a a gentle grittiness to all the details, which doesn’t back off when other supernatural elements are introduced, a pooka, a boggart, the wild hunt. Jenny’s Indian best friend sharing stories of the ghosts in India. A distant romantic tragedy in the farm’s past that is unique enough to move you even though you’ve read a hundred distant romantic tragedies before.

My only complaint is that sometimes it feels too rushed, too many years packed into 400 pages. Which, considering the somewhat domestic nature, isn’t much of a complaint—I wanted to spend more time with the characters. Sometimes I dislike the way plot and bigger conflicts get in the way of finding out who the characters are ‘behind the scenes’ if you will. But maybe that would make for a slogging read.

As it was, Tamsin was a great read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone jaded with haunted houses and ghost stories, who may want to see what something different tastes like.

*achingly, apparently, isn’t a word, which I think is ridiculous. It has a decent word-feel to it.

~ by ambergor on 24/07/2010.

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