Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tamsin

Of all the books that I've read for this year's R.I.P. Challenge (and at this point I've read way more than I've had the opportunity to review), this one has got to be my favorite.  It is, really, the perfect R.I.P. read, creepy and atmospheric, but it is so much more than a ghost story.  It's a coming-of age tale steeped in the folklore of old England, with boggarts and pookas, a story of moving from New York City to rural England to discover life with new stepbrothers and a stepfather.  There is a wealth of modern and historical detail, and characters that seem incredibly real, including the ghost of a young woman and the ghost of her little cat.

Jenny Gluckstein is thirteen when the story begins, but she tells the story in retrospect, as an older teenager, occasionally giving us her older, wiser commentary, and often expressing embarrassment at her less-than-stellar behavior or attitudes along the way.  She is not at all excited when she discovers her mother is not only getting remarried, but that they will be moving to a dilapidated old estate in England.  She goes there, kicking and screaming, particularly when she learns that her beloved cat will have to be quarantined for six whole months.  Despite herself she does finally begin to settle in, though, and she makes a good friend, and she finds that having step-brothers isn't all bad.  It is her meeting with Tamsin, the ghost of a girl who lived during the 1600s, that becomes a pivotal point in her life.  Jenny longs for Tamsin to somehow find peace, but the mystery surrounding her death and the events leading up to it make that seem an impossible task.  There is a darker specter lurking in the darkness, something that terrifies Tamsin so that she cannot bring herself to speak of it, that threatens to destroy any hope of peace at all.

I hesitate to say much more about the book, because it is best to discover it yourself.  This is a ghost story steeped in the history of Dorset, particularly the time of the Monmouth Rebellion and the Bloody Assizes, and it is the kind that slowly but surely crept under my skin and had me taking second glances into the shadows as I walked my dog at night, listening to the audiobook.  I did find it rather jarring, though, that the audiobook is read by the author.  He was a perfectly adequate reader, but it just felt, well, odd hearing a book told from the point of view of a teenage girl read in a deep masculine voice.  When he mentioned something about getting his period in gym class, I had to giggle.  There were times, though, that I totally forgot about the incongruity and became utterly involved in the story, because it is a powerful one.  My library shelves this in the adult section, but I believe it would be very appealing to older teens as well.  This is a gem of a ghost story, a wonderful, evocative book, and I highly recommend it.

Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle; read by the author (Blackstone Audio, 2005)

Source: Downloaded audiobook through my public library

Also reviewed at:
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf:  "Oh dreadful, blissful dilemma, a book I couldn't put down while at the same time I couldn't bear to finish it."
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On"There are no “wasted characters” in this book. I loved (or loved to hate) each and every one of them. The point is that I really cared about this book and that’s not something that always happens."
Things Mean a Lot" I think I enjoyed Tamsin even more than Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. I could barely put this book down."

7 comments:

  1. I love Tamsin! And not just because the heroine is called Jenny. I think the characters in it are so great - it would have been easy for the author to fail to flesh out the step-family, but he managed to make them all fully-formed people. I loved it.

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  2. Jenny - Oh, I'm glad you love it, too. I completely agree - I loved that her mother, her stepdad, even the little we see of her biological dad - they are all real, complex people. Even Mister Cat is a fully formed character! I just loved him. :-)

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  3. It doesn't surprise me at ALL that this was your favorite of your RIP reads!! What a magnificent book this was :D It's one of my all time favorites!!! Though I have to say that it is odd to hear that Beagle himself read the audio :/ I wonder why they didn't get a female to read it?

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  4. Oooh it sounds wonderful! I'll be hunting this down for one of next years halloween reads. Great review :)

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  5. Chris - I put it on my RIP list after you and Nymeth both reviewed it. How could I resist? Yes, it does seem an odd choice that they didn't get a female to read it.

    Mariel - You will adore this, I have no doubt. :-)

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  6. I absolutely love this book! It was the first I read by him.

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  7. Nicola - I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this, too. I read The Last Unicorn when I was a child, and I'm sorry to say this is the only other book by Beagle that I've read. But now I have to read all the rest!

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