read_warbler (read_warbler) wrote,

Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle

Yet another book I came across on a couple of bookblogs and liked the sound of. I also read it for a couple of book challenges so that worked out quite well really. It's a Young Adult ghost yarn.

The first part Tamsin, by Peter S. Beagle, is set in New York. Jenny Gluckstein is thirteen years old and lives with her mother, Sally. Her parents are divorced, her father being a rather self-centred actor. Out of the blue her mother announces that she is marrying her English boyfriend, Evan, and that they will all be moving to Dorset to live on a farm with his two sons. Jenny is devastated and hopes she can move in with her father. When it quickly becomes apparent that that's not going to happen she has to make the best of it and go, but not with any sort of grace whatsoever. It seems all Jenny wants to do is make life as difficult as she can for everyone around her.

The first thing that upsets Jenny is that her beloved cat, Mister Cat, will have to go into six months quarantine. While that is happening things are deteriorating rapidly and Jenny soon realises that the ancient old farmhouse the family are now living in is haunted. She's hearing voices and sensing odd presences in the house - it's almost like the house is protesting at them being there. When Mister Cat is returned to her and finds a companion from the third floor, where no one goes, and that companion turns out to be a ghostly cat, things start to get really interesting. It's not long before Jenny meets 'Tamsin' who shares the third floor with Mister Cat's new friend and has been there since the time of Monmouth's rebellion. Tamsin has a huge problem and the only one who can help her solve it is Jenny Gluckstein.

Tamsin won the Mythopoeic award for the year 2000 and I'm not at all surprised. That said, the story here wasn't quite what I was expecting. I think I was expecting a fairly straightforward ghost story and in a way it *is*, but there's a lot more to it than that. The book has a first person narrative and when that's well done it can really suck you in. It was well done here. Jenny is a very troubled and angry teenager when we first meet her. She narrates the book from 6 years after the events in the book begin and is full of self criticism, but you can't help but see a child who needs help but doesn't get it. As is often the case the adults concerned are too wrapped up in their own troubles to recognise this fact.

The historical and folktale elements of this story are extremely well handled. I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect and the tie-in with the events of Monmouth's rebellion, 300 years ago, is skilfully done. I'm not saying more than that as it would involve spoilers, I'll just say that certain aspects of the book are really quite creepy.

Do I have any criticisms? The only ones I have revolve around the fact that Beagle is an American author writing about England and the English. And he does pretty well to be honest: I've read much worse. It's just that I think he should've known that Dorset is not on the Bristol Channel, it's actually on the 'English' Channel. Two very different stretches of water. And when the step-brother, Julian, was introduced, his speech was laughable. Full of 'I says' and 'Look heres'. I kept expecting him to come out with, 'What ho! Jeeves'. It would have been a very simple thing for the author to have invested in several modern books by English authors, writing about English children, and he would soon have seen that our children simply don't speak like Bertie Wooster and haven't for about 70 years... and then only in very posh public schools.

All that said, this is an extremely absorbing read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and got the feeling the author was leaving things a little bit open at the end in case he felt like writing more about the exploits of Jenny Gluckstein. I sincerely hope he does.
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