Sep 10, 2008

A Fine and Private Place by Peter Beagle

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"

It begins with a raven stealing a baloney. He then flies over New York to Yorkchester Cemetery, delivers it to one Mr Rebeck, and stays for a little chat. It’s a rather sarcastic raven, but a kind one deep down.

A Fine and Private Place is a love story between Michael Morgan and Laura Durand. Of the things they have in common, one stands out – the fact that they are both dead. It’s also a love story between Mr Rebeck and Mrs Klapper, who are both very much alive. But Mr Rebeck has secretly lived in a graveyard for almost twenty years.

When I finished A Fine and Private Place, one word crossed my mind – “wow”. It’s not a very eloquent word, I’ll grant you, but I was at a loss for more. How can I begin to explain how much I loved this book?

I think I’ll start by saying that in some ways it reminded me a lot of The Good Fairies of New York. And if you have been reading this blog for some time, you have probably heard me go on about how much I love The Good Fairies of New York. Both are such kind and wise books. Both have a similar kind of subtle humour, of tenderness, of warmth.

A Fine and Private Place is a lovely and quiet ghost story that is very much about being alive. It’s about fear and loneliness and love and time – fighting to delay our goodbyes even if just for five more minutes. They will go by fast, yes, but they matter so much. It’s about the importance of little things, little gestures, of the bonds that tie us to one another. It’s about daring to be alive.

I was completely amazed to find out that Peter Beagle wrote A Fine and Private Place when he was nineteen years old. What an absolutely stunning debut. There’s nothing undeveloped or unpolished about this novel. It doesn’t show potential – it shows genius. But more than that, it’s such a wise book. Peter Beagle wrote Tamsin when he was a middle-aged man, and he perfectly captured the thoughts and feelings of a teenage girl. Likewise, he wrote A Fine and Private Place when he was a teenage boy, and he perfectly captured the thoughts and feelings of a middle-aged woman and a middle-aged man.

Both Mr Rebeck and Mrs Klapper feel so real. Mr Rebeck hasn’t left the graveyard in nineteen years, and he’s worried and reluctant and afraid of the world – afraid of change, most of all. Mrs Klapper has been a widow for a little over a year, and she struggles to remain cheerful, to keep busy – to fill the minutes and the hours and the days. Both are lonely, of course, though they are unlikely to admit it to themselves. Both are a little eccentric, and very human, and among the most likeable characters I have ever encountered.

Then there are Michael and Laura, but I will say no more. Read this book. It's a love story and a ghost story and a bit of a murder mystery. It’s superbly written. It’s a lovely tale. It will move you and make you chuckle and stay with you.

One more thing: I have read three books by Peter Beagle now, and I have absolutely adored all three, each of them more than the previous one. That makes it official: Peter Beagle has joined my list of favourite authors. I must now find and read everything else he has written.

You can read an interview with Peter Beagle by Jeff VanderMeer here.

Favourite passages:
“They had it all backwards, you see, those old ghost stories about the dead haunting the living. It’s not that way at all.”

He wondered why this should be, why the things this woman was saying should delight him so, particularly when he barely understood them. He knew very well that the great majority of human conversation is meaningless. A man can get through most of his days on stock answers to stock questions, he thought. Once he catches onto the game, he can manage with an assortment of grunts. This would not be so if people listened to each other, but they don’t. They know that no one is going to say something moving and important to them at that very moment. Anything important will be announced in the newspapers and reprinted for those who missed it. No one really wants to know how his neighbour is feeling, but he asks him anyway, because it is polite, and because he knows that his neighbour certainly will not tell him how he feels.

I wish something would happen to me, something that would show me how cruel and jealous and vengeful I can be. Then I could go back to gentleness because I chose it over brutality for its own sake, not because I didn’t have the courage to be cruel. I might even like cruelty. I doubt very much that I would, but I ought to find out.

He felt listless and lonely when the raven was gone. A little while ago he had been sitting with three friends; now there was only himself on the hillside, and the transition was too sudden for him. He wondered if very old men felt that way. Perhaps children did, children who had fallen asleep in a room full of light, and wakened much later, alone in a strange bed in the middle of the night, in a room that might have been friendly and familiar once, but was no more.

Other Blog Reviews:
Food for the Soul

(Have you also reviewed this book? If so, leave me your link and I’ll add it to this post.)


  1. Yes! This is the book I was looking for! I saw it in the bookstore a long time ago, then it was gone and I couldn't remember the title - just that it was about ghosts, with romance and a murder mystery somewhere.

    Thanks for locating this book for me.

  2. I only first even heard of this book a couple weeks ago. It sounded so interesting that I added it to the old wish list. Now I know I made the right choice there...and will moving it up on the priority scale!

  3. I have never read Peter S. Beagle (or even heard of him before your review of Tamsin) but this sounds absolutely enchanting!

    I love discovering new authors! I'm still buzzing over finding Susanna Clark and Alice Hoffman. Enjoy hunting down Beagle's other books and I hope you love them even more!

  4. From your review alone this is a keeper. Great post Nymeth! Good thing I plan to visit my favorite bookstore tomorrow :)

    Our favorite Neil cites Peter Beagle as one of his influences (at least in his blog). I think he mentioned once that Sandman's Matthew the raven somehow came out of the raven from this story. Something to that effect. I know because I just Googled it a couple of minutes ago :P

  5. Sounds fabulous. Isn't Peter Beagle the guy who wrote The Last Unicorn?

  6. Dark Orpheus, I'm glad to have helped!

    Debi, the right choice indeed! I can't imagine you not enjoying this one.

    Mariel: I'm surprised that Rhinoa hasn't tried to make you read The Last Unicorn yet :P You need to give Beagle a try someday, I think you'll really enjoy his stuff. And yes, discovering new favourites is such a great feeling :)

    Lightheaded: You know, I'm not surprised to hear that - I actually did wonder about Matthew. There was definitely something Matthew-ish about this raven - or rather, there's something this raven-ish about Matthew :P I wonder if I'll detect this book's influence in The Graveyard Book as well. I can't wait to find out.

    Jena: Yup! I've read that, this one and Tamsin. All were lovely. I can't wait to read more of his stuff.

  7. Rhinoa did make me watch The Last Unicorn a couple of years ago, but I can't say I appreciated it as much as I would have done if I'd first seen it as a child! I didn't realise that it was written by Peter Beagle!

  8. As you know, I'm in the middle of Tamsin and I'm loving it. I would definitely read Beagle's other books. For some reason, I didn't buy The Last Unicorn this summer when I had it in my hands at a used bookstore in Flagstaff. Darn!

    My husband has read The Good Fairies of New York and he keeps moving it up to the top of my TBR pile. I think he really wants me to read it!

  9. A love story, a ghost story and a bit of murder mystery! Wow, this sounds like a perfect read for me!! I've never read anything by this author so perhaps I should try reading this book as a starter. Thanks for another good review, Nymeth! Guess what, now I've came to know a lot of new authors through your reviews/recommendations. :)

  10. This is the first Beagle book I read and my favourite. I like Tamsin too plus A Dance for Emilia (though it is only a novella)

  11. I love the Last Unicorn, and really liked Tamsin. But when I picked this one up once years ago I just couldn't get into it. I don't know why. Perhaps it was just the wrong time for me and that book to "meet" and I should give it a second attempt.

  12. I haven't heard of the book, but all it took was your first paragraph (about the Raven and baloney) for me to put this on my list of books to watch out for. Another author that you are introducing me to, missy!! :) "Read this book. It's a love story and a ghost story and a bit of a murder mystery." Sold!

  13. hey.. i saw this blog on google's blogs of note today in my reader and came here to see what you had.. i've spent the last half an hour reading your reviews and stuff.. you have an awesome blog here!:)

  14. Wow don't you just hate stupidly talented people! I am glad he has joined your list of favourite authors. I hope to read Tamsin this month or next which will be my second by him and will definitely be adding this one to my list.

  15. You've convinced me! I'll be on the lookout for it!!!

    Great review. I have Good Fairies on my pile and I remember you really liking it. I had hoped to get to it during Once Upon a Time, but you know how that goes.

  16. This sounds like another great read that I would love to read. Thanks for the review.

  17. Mariel: I know what you mean about The Last Unicorn. I think I was 19 when I first watched it, and while I did enjoy it I also had the feeling I'd have appreciate it a lot more as a child. But the book is much better! It's so beautifully written, and it's a story that I think readers of all ages will find meaningful.

    Terri B: Your husband is wise :P I look forward to your review of Tamsin, and of Good Fairies when you get to it.

    Melody, I'm happy to hear that! I think that the fact that you like Neil Gaiman is a good indicator that you'll like Peter Beagle.

    Nicola: I haven't read the novella, but I definitely plan to!

    Jeane, sorry to hear that this one didn't work for you. Sometimes it really is a matter of timing, though.

    Trish, I hope you enjoy this one!

    Ramya, thank you! I hope you stick around :)

    Rhinoa: I'd hate them if they didn't write such awesome books :P I can't wait to see what you think of this and Tamsin.

    Carl, I hope you enjoy both this and Good Fairies. And yep, I definitely know how it goes :P

    Serena, you're welcome! Hope you enjoy it :)

  18. Never heard of this but I have quickly added it to my wish list. Your review makes it sound wonderful!

  19. Wonderful review Nymeth! I've never read anything by this author but you've made this book sound absolutely amazing so I will be checking him out. I love ghost stories written like this. Thanks.

  20. Iliana, hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

    Dar, I loved them too. They're my favourite kind of ghost stories. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

  21. I want to read this now, great review! that book cover is beautiful as well.

  22. Lovely review -- I shared it with Peter because I know it will make him smile.

    Something special to share about the cover: it was designed and photographed by the very talented Ann Monn, and she took the pictures in the very same Bronx cemetery that inspired Peter to write the book.

    Finally; anyone wanting a personally-autographed copy of A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE can order one from

    -- Connor Cochran
    Business Manager for Peter S. Beagle

  23. This sounds like a great book! I definitely want to read this. Thanks for the great review!

  24. Naida: Isn't it? I hope you enjoy it!

    Connor Cochran, thank you so much for stopping by and for letting me know about the cover and the autographed copies. All the best for you and Peter Beagle.

    Anna, you're welcome. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  25. Couldn't resist adding my "well done" to your review. I really enjoy reading your thoughts on books. In this review, I especially connected to your very cool statement, "A lovely and quiet ghost story that is very much about being alive."

    With that, you have added another book to my ever expanding list. Yay!

  26. This sounds like a great book, Nymeth. I'm going to enter myself for your BAFAB giveaway. I'm keeping my fingers crossed! Thanks for doing it. :D

  27. I haven't read this book in years, but I loved it - in fact, I love all his full-length novels, I wish he would write more!


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