Lit review: A Fine & Private Place

I enjoy reading and sharing my thoughts on the books I read. So I figured that I would start to review the books I read here. Oh, and warning, incoming opinions.

I was looking forward to reading A Fine & Private Place by Peter Beagle for quite some time. Beagle is best known for writing The Last Unicorn, one of my favorite books and the reason I was excited to read this one.

The book revolves around a middle-aged man who has come to live in a cemetery for near 20 years and can speak with the ghosts that live there. Two of these ghosts complete an ensemble of characters that include a talking raven and a Jewish widow.

Unfortunately, that is as interesting as the book gets. There is a feeling throughout the book that so much of the action takes place off the page. We follow the love story of Jonathan Rebeck, who stays within a mausoleum, and Gertrude Klapper, a grieving widow who comes to visit the cemetery. Along the way, two ghosts, Michael and Laura, also fall in love. Yet, there is little in the way of this described on the page. There is a fine line between subtlety and understatement and here Beagle falls short.

The story itself, while not bad by any means, is also a non-event. I found myself wholly uninvested with the characters and story. Everything is a bit beige and anticlimactic.

It must be noted that this is Beagle’s first book. It is quite incredible to read this after reading the masterpiece of The Last Unicorn. But one of the things that made me fall in love with his writing still shines through the dull plot: his prose. Beagle has a gift for description and writing itself. The second paragraph is great example of this:

“Below, the shopkeeper stood with his hands on his hips, looking at the diminishing cinder in the sky. Presently he shrugged and went back into his delicatessen. He was not without philosophy, this shopkeeper, and he knew that if a raven comes into your delicatessen and steals a whole baloney it is either an act of God or it isn’t, and in either case there isn’t much you can do about it.”

Overall, the book serves as a great note that storytelling is a learned process. Though the story falls short, Beagle’s lovely prose still shines.

I give it a 6.5/10.

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