Jun 14, 2008

Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

Jenny Gluckstein, our narrator, is nineteen years old, but only thirteen at the time the story she is telling begins. Jenny had lived all her life in New York with her mother Sally and a black cat aptly named Mister Cat. Her life took a turn when her mother’s English boyfriend, Evan, proposed, and Jenny found herself transported from New York to a farm in Dorset, England, with a new stepfather and two new stepbrothers to get to know.

The Dorset farm Jenny’s new family moves into is in dire need of recovery work, and so is the manor house where they are to live. The first few months in England are hard for Jenny. In addition to all the changes she has to face, there's the fact that Mister Cat has to be quarantined for six months. And as much as she and her family work on recovering the house, some things don’t seem to want to get fixed. There are, of course, rumours that the house is haunted, and Jenny and her family are soon given good reasons to believe that they are not its only inhabitants.

One day, after Mister Cat’s return, Jenny wakes up with not one but two cats landing on her bed. One is Mister Cat, the other is a blue grey Persian ghost cat. She follows the cats and discovers a secret room where the ghost of Tamsin Willoughby, a girl who died three hundred years before, awaits her. And so begins a wonderful story full of ghosts, folklore, a deep sense of history, friendship and growing pains.

You know, I didn't think it'd be possible, but I find myself agreeing with Chris. I think I enjoyed Tamsin even more than Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. I could barely put this book down. I loved the fact that it was so full of everyday details – it was a bit like Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin in that way. The fantasy elements are subtle, almost invisible at first. You get to know the characters and to truly care about them. When the book was over, I was sad that I wasn’t going to get to spend time with them anymore.

Another immediate reason to love this book is Mister Cat, who not only has an awesome name but has to be one of the coolest fictional cats I’ve ever encountered. Peter Beagle captured the cat-owning (or the being owned by a cat) experience perfectly. The cuddling, the claws, the moods, the sulks, the “prrp?”: it’s all here.

The story is full of elements of British folklore – ghost, Pookas, Billy Blinds, Boggarts and the Wild Hunt, just to name a few. It’s also deliciously atmospheric:
My Jenny, I will never see your own land, yet well I know night’s as dark there as in Dorset. And night is not ours, and never will be, not till all is night. I tell you it will not, Jenny—never any more ours than the sea, for all we plow and harrow up that darkness. What yet swims in the deepest deep, I’m sure none can say—and not even the Pooka knows all that may move beyond the light.
It’s full of Dorset history too: I got to learn about Judge Jeffrey and the Bloody Assizes, a particularly gruesome bit of history that I hadn’t come across before.

Tamsin is at times a heart-warming story, and at times a haunting one. This has got to be one of the creepiest descriptions ever:
The best way I can put it is that the presence of him rustled like his voice, like an attic full of old dead bugs: the empty husks of flies in ragged spiderwebs, still bobbing against the window—the beetles and grasshoppers that froze to death winters ago—the dusty rinds of little nameless things stirring on the floor in a draft, crunching underfoot wherever you step.
I shudderd again typing that up. But lest you get the wrong impression, that is the creepiest passage in the entire book, and the general tone is much milder than that. Tamsin is a ghost story, but not quite the scary type. More the “I can’t put this book down because I really care about these characters and I want to know what will happen to them next” type. I couldn’t have loved it more.

Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Never Jam Today
Books to the Sky
A Stripped Armchair
Read Warbler

Rhinoa's Ramblings
Tip of the Iceberg
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf
You Can Never Have Too Many Books


  1. When Chris reviewed this, I wanted to go out and buy it, and now you're doing the same thing to me! But now I have a big library catalog that I'm going to go check instead. :)

  2. Beautiful review, Nymeth! British folklore sounds fascinating. I really have to pick this up someday. I'm itching to pick this up on my next trip to the library. :]

  3. You make me want to read it all over again! I'm so happy that you enjoyed it :) I thought of you when I was reading it because of Mr. Cat and just knew that you would love it. He really was one of the most well written cat characters! I loved him. The story was amazing and like you said, I just didn't want it to end. I got quite sad when I saw the pages thinning out towards the end. Needless to say, I have plenty of Beagle on my wishlist now!

  4. I love The Last Unicorn. I want to read Tamsin - but I've been swamped by books lately.

    Maybe I'll go return some of my library books. And if Tamsin is on the shelves, the universe intends for me to read it. :)

  5. Hello!

    I am just dropping a note to say I stumbled to this piece of gem browsing around the net for a discussion of "wind-up bird chronicle". After reading through some reviews, I wanted to tell you I am impressed with your reviews and will be stopping by this site for recommendations for summer reading!

  6. a, I hope you manage to find it at the library!

    Orchidus: I really do think this is your kind of book :)

    Chris: This is definitely one I will be re-reading in the future. And yes, he was such a great cat! Almost as cool as my cats :P I want to read more Beagle too! I have a copy of A Fine and Private Place that I picked up at this lovely used bookshop in Wales and I'm dying to read it, but I'm trying to save it for RIP!

    Dark Orpheus: I love The Last Unicorn too. That one is more poetic, more skilfully crafted, but Tamsin has a story that immediately sucked me in. I hope you do get that sign from the universe :P

    The Harlequin: Hello, and thank you very much :) Do stop by!

  7. I was just like Eva in wanting to head right out and buy this after Chris's review. Then I sort of forgot about it for a bit. For whatever reason, it popped back to mind just last week when we at the bookstore, but they didn't have it. I believe you've just gave me that push to just order it! And I suspect that I won't be the only one here who reads it either!

  8. This sounds wonderful. Yet another book for my list - you are a bad influence :)

  9. I have heard of The Last Unicorn, but I haven't read anything by Dorset before.

    Tamsin does sound good! I have only recently developed an attraction to ghost stories. And can I resist a book with cats in it? I think not. :-)

  10. I've been meaning to read this for ages. Sounds like it's time to take the plunge! Thanks for the review! :-)

  11. The story sounds good, and as a bonus the cover is pretty too, I love it! You're not helping with my TBR pile at all, Nymeth. LOL.

  12. great review... this has been on my wishlist since chris reviewed it... but it only available "used".

  13. I can't wait to read this later this year. I don't know, I do love The Last Unicorn and am not sure this will better it, but fingers crossed! It sounds perfect for me either way :)

  14. Debi: I hope you and Annie enjoy it!

    Iliana: Sorry :P

    Literary Feline: The Last Unicorn gives you a better idea of his writing skills, but I think I enjoyed this story a bit more. And plus, the cats! Who indeed can resist them? I loved both books, though, and either one would be a great introduction to Beagle's work.

    Darla: Do! This is right up your alley :)

    Melody: Isn't it? I think this is one I would have bought for the cover alone.

    Deslily: Maybe you could order it from http://www.bookdepository.co.uk? It's where I got mine from. They're a UK store, but they send worldwide with free shipping, and they're very fast and reliable!

    Rhinoa: Even if it doesn't top The Last Unicorn (which is hard, I know) I really do think you'll love this too!

  15. I'm really not keen on ghost stories, but Tamsin was one I couldn't put down and enjoyed quite a bit. Though The Last Unicorn is still my favorite.

  16. I really, really really want to read this one, so I was so dismayed when my bookstore told me it was not available anymore! No luck in used bookstores or at Amazon.ca yet....fingers crossed i can find one soon, because between you and Chris, I think I'm becoming slightly obsessed now at needing to read this book!! lol It sounds so perfect, ghosts and cats *sigh* thanks for your review, which is magical.

  17. this sounds really well done - and i really like that way of inserting the fantasy in a subtle way within all the plain, every day stuff.

    and "mister cat". that is just brilliant!! :D

  18. Jeane: I really do love them both. Peter Beagle is just so good!

    Susan: I'll tell you what I told Deslily: Why don't you try thebookdepository? Free shipping worldwide! Normally they are really fast, and they're super reliable. I just know you will love this book!

    JP, you'd enjoy this one! And yes, I thought so too :D

  19. "I couldn’t have loved it more." How fantastic! And yes, that quote is very creepy--sends chills down my spine just thinking of the imagery. Another one for the TBR. :)

  20. I made the mistake of listening to Tamsin as an audiobook sometime last year. It was narrated by Beagle himself, and a middle-aged man reading the part of a teenaged girl just didn't work. I loved the story, though, and actually bought the book itself so I can re-"read" it. I bought The Last Unicorn at the same time, but haven't gotten to it yet.

  21. just wanted to add my praise for peter s beagle. so far i have read five books by him: the last unicorn (the first of his i read, i was crazy about the movie as a child), tamsin, a fine and private place, i see by my outfit, and the line between. tamsin is such a special kind of book, full of gorgeous writing mixed with modern humor and sarcasm in jenny's character, i love this story. in truth, each of those five books i mentioned is a world of awesomeness unto itself, peter s beagle is one of those writers who i have become obsessed with finding every story he has avaliable. cant reccommend his work highly enough, and it's terrible that he seems to be so underrated, he almost never gets bad reviews for any work but doesnt seem to bring in a lot of money either, which means a lot of his books don't stay in print for very long. i hope still for a successful re-release of many novels of his which i am unable to find.


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