Monday, 10 November 2008

Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle

Tamsin by Peter S Beagle
This was a lovely way to end RIP3 challenge. I finished it Oct 28, well before the deadline of Oct 31. I finished it reluctantly, because I fell in love with Jenny Gluckstein and her new family, her falling-down manor house in Dorset, her cat Mister Cat, and most of all the countryside where, in England, the fairies and creatures of folktales are alive. There are reasons for all those folkstories. After reading this book, Dorset will never seem the same for any reader. Nor will any field or remote corner of a field. Always the wind will seem to ring faintly with chimes,and every stormy night could bring the echo of the Wild Hunt, so real does Beagle make them possible in this book.

It is most of all a story about a ghost and the girl she appears to 300 years after her death. With the lightest of touches, Beagle brings the ghost, Tamsin, to life. And all through the book Jenny wants to touch her, and can't. And Tamsin can't touch her either. The most remarkable thing about the ghosts is how Beagle combines what we think ghosts should be - memories, emotions, caught in time and space - and presents them with such sensitivity that it seems obvious, only we've never known this before about ghosts: they fade because they forget what it's like to be human. They forget how hair should feel, how to sit, how to move, they forget the physicality of being alive. "Ghosts can't cry, but I about did, every time she remembered something that small from three hundred years ago. The more time we spent together, the more things like that came back to her - just as she herself was growing clearer, easier to see." Isn't that charming, and true, the way that the way to the heart is true, even if we can never see the way until we are on it? That is what Peter Beagle's writing is like, about how things are true, and in this story, Jenny discovers that all her mixed-up 13 year old feelings were true, because her bad behaviour when the story begins is what gives this book its emotional highs and lows - it's Jenny's reactions to Tamsin that makes her real to us, too. And the context of that emotional unhappiness - a new step-family, father and two brothers - a new country, are all believable settings for her wild reactions. I should know, since I was that age when I got a new step-father and three siblings who resented us, so all Jenny's feelings are quite believable even if not nice. One of the best things about Tamsin is how she and her younger step-brother Julian become close, become brother and sister, in the course of the novel.

In the midst of all this teen turmoil, is the story of Tamsin and how she became a ghost so long ago, and why she is still there at the Manor. I'm not going to tell you how it's worked out, because this is a story that is simple - love, betrayal, jealousy, passion - and because how it is resolved made me cry while I was reading it, because finally they are all set free - and because once again the British countryside reaches over and grabs at me and I've been homesick since reading this book. That's how good this ghost story is. It's a slice of real British countryside complete with alive fairies and creatures to be frightened of, come to life. *sigh* perfect reading right before Hallowe'en, perfect reading anytime.

My one resentment is that the story had to end. I really hated it ending, even as I rushed to see how it all turned out. It's one of those stories where I really wish Stour Head existed (as it exists in this book anyway) so that I would have a chance to see the Pooka, to hear the Wild Hunt, to smell vanilla unexpectedly and know a ghost was visiting me. Oh, and to be afraid if I see the Black Dog watching me. And best of all, an even older mythological person comes to life, an older magic that is set in the British landscape, and satisfyingly resolves Tamsin's mystery. Now my heart is calling me home again! 35 days to go until we are back again on our visit!! This is one of those times when I wish we could somehow get tickets into the book, so I could go visit Stourhead Farm world. This is when we need Thursday Next's world to come to life, so we can go book to book!

Most highly recommended, a wonderful ghost story, complete with a ghost-cat as my cover shows. If you go to Geranium Cat's post, (below in other reviews) you can see the other cover with the empty rocking chair. Both covers are very good representations of the book. Wonderful, haunting, filled with humour and the ghastly, bump in the nights and fey creatures that would lure you to death, and the spirits that make your kitchen a mess. And love, all kinds of love. This story is a pure delight.

Other reviewers:
Geranium cat


Unknown said...

I've heard so many good things about this book, I really am going to have to try and pick up a copy!

Ana S. said...

"My one resentment is that the story had to end."

Same here! I pretty much agree with everything you said.

Susan said...

bart: it really is worth it. Easily among the best ghost stories.

nymeth: I'll be adding you shortly to my reviewers, I was running out the door this morning so I was finishing my post quickly....I think your review was great!! and thanks :-) Other than the Enchanted Castle, we've pretty much agreed on everything so far on the books we've both read!! You have no idea how happy this makes me, it's like knowing there is a whole group of kindred spirits out there that all love the same books/authors. That's pure delight too :-)

chrisa511 said...

I was sad that the story had to end too :( I absolutely loved this book and I've yet to read a bad review of it! It's just one of those universally appreciated books. I love Beagle's writing...he's fantastic!

Jeane said...

I remember really enjoying this story. And I don't usually like ghost stories. The cover you featured is my favorite out of all the editions out there.

Patricia said...

I hate you! I went out to try to find this book and of course no one has it! From now on you have to only review books I can get my hands on!

I have discovered several second hand bookstores within a block of where I work. How lucky is that? Unlike you however, I can actually LEAVE the store to get back to work on time.

I seem to have lost the first paycheque my work gave me...or tried to. It was an advance because my file isn't completely transferred yet. I bet I'll get a reputation after this one!

I was thinking about the boys on their birthdays and hope they enjoyed their days. Can you email me your work email so I can write you an occasional hello from work?

Daphne said...

I've been wanting to read this. Definitely on my TBR list!!

? said...

I have put you down as the bookworm2 in my continue shortly

Ana S. said...

Susan, it really is a pure delight to find people who just know what I mean when I talk about books :D

Anonymous said...

I ended up reading this for the RIP challenge as well and loved it as much as you did. I can't wait to read more Peter S Beagle in the future.

Susan said...

Chris: fantastic is right. At least I have a few more by him to read still - The Innkeeper's Song, Folk of the Air....which I bought because of your excellent review!

jeane: oh, I'm so glad you liked it! and that you were able to give it a try.

Patricia: ha ha! If i can get you to read more! then I am delighted :-) I've already emailed you my work email, and envy, envy envy all those second hand bookstores by your work. We have none since the last one closed down in the summer, by work in Gatineau. sob!

Daphne: Oh, you are in for such a treat! i hope you can get it soon.

nymeth: *hug*

Rhinoa: I know, I have to come put your review on my blog. It is so lovely that so many of us, worlds apart, love the same books when we read them. That is part of the magic and wonder of books, for me! and meeting all of you :-D

Jodie Robson said...

I've been meaning to stop by and say how much I enjoyed your review for ages! It is such a lovely book, and will certainly go down as one of my favourites for 2009. I always think of the Wild Hunt when geese fly over in the dark - I'm so glad I know they are geese :)

Now you've read it I can say that the scariest thing in the book for me was the realisation that it was Judge Jeffreys. I've seen his portrait in the tearoom in Dorchester, and at school we studied him in history. I'm sure the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I realised who was threatening Tamsin and her family. A truly frightening man.

memento_mary said...

The book is fascinating, although I never felt deep in love with the good guys in it. In fact, i've read it only because of Jeffreys in the list of dramatis personae. I study the man and his times for years and every book, even fictional, is valuable to me. Beagle reaches heights in the face-off scene between Jeffreys and Wild Hunt. This episode is much deeper than it looks.