Peter S. Beagle,
Tamsin
(Roc, 1999)

Peter S. Beagle's new novel, Tamsin, is a ghost story, a love story and a coming-of-age story rolled into one.

Jenny Gluckstein is a street-smart and smartmouthed 13-year-old living on West 83rd Street in Manhattan when her mother, Sally, tells her that she is getting married to her boyfriend Evan McHugh. That's not all -- they're going to move back to England, where they will be joined by Evan's two sons, Tony, 16, and Julian, 10. Jenny is not happy, to say the least, but then she finds out that they will not be living in London; rather, Evan has just gotten a job restoring and managing a Stourhead Farm, in Dorset.

After that, Jenny manages to make life miserable for everyone concerned. There are limits to that, however, and Jenny finds herself drawn into life on the Dorset farm. Not only is there the daily routine on the farm, but Jenny finds that the folklore creatures Evan has told them about really seem to exist: she hears strange whispers, footfalls and, on some nights, wild shrieks as if a pack of wild creatures were pursuing their prey across the sky. Then Mister Cat gets out of quarantine, and it is he who eventually leads her to discover Tamsin.

Tamsin is the ghost of Tamsin Willoughby, the daughter of the farm's first owner, Roger Willoughby. Dead at the age of 20, she has waited for over 300 years, accompanied by the ghost of her Persian cat, Miss Sophia Brown, unable to remember why she can not move beyond her ghostly state. She and Jenny become friends, and Jenny finds herself involved in Tamsin's plight.

In trying to help Tamsin, Jenny is drawn further into the world of Faery, encountering a pooka and a boggart, a billy-blind, oakmen, and the Old Lady of the Elder Bush, as well as becoming too close an acquaintance than she would care for with the Wild Hunt. She learns that Tamsin is somehow connected with the historical events of her time, namely, the "Bloody Assizes" over which presided Judge George Jeffreys, the "Hanging Judge" who dispensed brutal "justice" indeed. Only Jenny stands in between Tamsin and Jeffreys' obsessive and possessive ghost.

Beagle spends fully the first third of the book developing Jenny's character and setting the scene before Tamsin appears, but the book hardly drags. Jenny narrates the story at age 19, remembering the events surrounding her acquaintance with Tamsin, and it is the perspective and sometimes wry commentary that rescues the 13-year-old character from whiny brattiness. Remarkably, Beagle captures Jenny's voice perfectly, and the book comes alive through her eyes. Her character develops convincingly and subtly.

This is a book with wide appeal for adults and young adults alike, from Jenny's sassy introduction to the narrative's tumultuous resolution. Once begun, it is hard to put down, and readers will be sorry to see it come to an end.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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