Sunday, 17 August 2008

Tamsin

I realise I should have hung on for a few weeks and read Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle for Carl's next RIP challenge, which I'm assuming will start sometime in September. It would have been very suitable but no matter, it's been read for two challenges and that's fine. The two challenges are the What's in a Name challenge being hosted by Annie and it's also my first book for the Book Awards challenge being hosted by Michelle at 1morechapter.com.



The first part of this book 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.

13 comments:

Chris said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed it Cath! It was one of my favorite reads of the year. Great to have a British point of view there! I can imagine that the speech was a little bit off, lol...it's like when I read a book that's supposed to be set in New Orleans and they make us sound like a bunch of ignorant hicks...Don't you hate that stereotype!

DesLily said...

glad you enjoyed the book Cath!

How strange that the fact Dorset was written on the wrong channel wasn't found and fixed well before the book went to print...

(glad you got the Laurie R King book! When I read those 2 I will have read the entire series!)

Cath said...

Hi Chris. Yep, I really enjoyed this one. Good ghost stories are few and far between plus it was a very 'human' story too, I loved seeing Jenny develop as a person. I see you know what I mean when I talk about speech. Here in the SW of England we suffer much the same as you do in the south of the USA. People think we're all country yokels down here, all saying, 'Ooooo, arrrr' and chewing on bits of straw. Annoying.

Hey Pat! I always think it strange that that publishers don't hand manuscripts to someone who comes from the foreign country for them to spot any glaring errors. It would be so simple to do that before the book is published. Anyhow... Tamsin could be one for you for Carl's RIP challenge. :-)

Nymeth said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. It was a different kind of ghost story, but I really like ghost stories like that. And I just loved all the folklore. I can imagine how those little things that were off must have been a bit annoying to you. It would be so great if he wrote another book about Jenny! Let's hope he does.

DesLily said...

it's one of those that I can only get used now... but I have a few books here, that depending on "life", I have available to read for the rip challenge... they are:
Kept by D J Taylor
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
A Nameless Witch by A Lee Martinez
Dracula by Braum Stoker and
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.. I know I'll read Riverton and Nameless Witch other than that I'm not sure but I do have things to choose from Oh.. and I have Rebecca! sheesh.. I don't know how I accumulated so many of those type books! I doubt I will enjoy any as much as All Fright Diner by A Lee Martinez that I read last year (it was funny!!!) or The 13th Tale, which I loved! (I might do a reread of that one!)

Cath said...

Hi Nymeth. I felt I learned a lot about Dorset folklore from Tamsin. I loved The Lady of the Elder! But it was all fascinating. I'm hoping there'll be more from Beagle... the Pooka stressed at the end that Jenny was a person who drew magic to her. If that isn't a hint I don't know what is.

Pat, Dracula and The Historian are *great* choices for the challenge. Read them in that order though. And be prepared to take your time as they're not books to be rushed. I loved them both. I already have my pile ready for the challenge. LOL! I have The Moor on the pile, Jamaica Inn, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Thirteenth Tale and a couple of others. I hope I enjoy these books as much as I liked last years.

DesLily said...

I don't think i've yet met anyone who didn't enjoy the 13th Tale! I may reread that..well, I mean I WILL reread it but maybe i'll do it for RIP dunno yet I'm not sure I want to tackle the historian.. alot rides on what's happening with my brother or even if he makes it or not.. those things hinder the enjoyment of reading.

Jenny said...

I loved this book! There aren't enough good heroines called Jenny, so I appreciated this book on behalf of my name. :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Cath said...

Pat, how are things going with your brother?

Jenny, my youngest daughter is called Jenny so I quite agree with your comment. LOL.

Darla D said...

Thanks for this review - I'm definitly putting Tamsin in my "pool" of RIP books to read! I've been meaning to read it for ages. :-)

Cath said...

Hi Darla! Oh, Tamsin is so worth reading for your RIP challenge. I was so surprised by it as it's so much more than just a ghost story - not that there's anything wrong with that either. But it's lovely to find character development and depth when you least expect it. I think I was just expecting a cute book about cats! LOL.

Darla D said...

Don't you love when that happens? sounds wonderful - can't wait to read it. :-)

Cath said...

Darla, judging by the kind of book you blog about I think this one might be right up your street. A lot of other people have liked it too, not just me. :-)