Stuff We Love: This hauntingly enchanting Peter S. Beagle book has no unicorns, but...

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Sep 27, 2017

When you think of Peter S. Beagle, you probably think of the magical creatures (and that creepy circus) that inhabit the realm of The Last Unicorn, but Tamsin is a different kind of sorcery.

Don’t get me wrong. I love The Last Unicorn. I’m sort of obsessed with unicorns in general. The Last Unicorn was the reason I was fangirling at Beagle’s table at New York Comic Con several years ago. It just bothers me that many are mistaken in thinking the brilliant and prolific author was a one-hit wonder when he has conjured so many fantastical visions without even needing to say “Magic, do as you will.”

Tamsin is a ghost story that is not so much a horrorshow as it is a dreamscape that unfolds on a gloomy English farm haunted by spirits and secrets—think boggarts, billy-blinds, a shape-shifting Pooka, and the ominous Black Dog. I would voluntarily live in this place. 13-year-old Jenny Gluckstein obviously doesn’t share my sentiments. She resents her parents’ divorce and reluctantly drags her feet from New York City to Heathrow Airport to a place that was built in the 1600s where not everything that was supposed to pass on actually stayed in the grave. Things creak and moan too much even for a Halloween house. There is a lingering scent of vanilla in places where it can’t be explained. Jenny thinks she’s seeing things until she follows the translucent white Persian her black cat is always stalking.

That is when she sees a ghost. Literally.

Tamsin Willoughby is not out for the blood or tasty souls of human beings. She haunts in the most proper sense you can possibly think of, sitting in an ancient chair by the window, her snooty Persian cat (appropriately named Miss Sophie Brown) in her lap, gazing through the dusty glass for centuries. Tamsin is no spook but a dead girl who is in mourning herself and has been for the past 300-something years. She just can’t remember what she is mourning, just that she is plagued by a deep and undying sadness that has something to do with a shadowy being called The Other who Jenny is never supposed to mention. Ever. Except Jenny knows she somehow has to peel back the layers of time to release her from this misery, and dealing with the otherworld could be dangerous.

You can relate to these characters whether they are corporeal or incorporeal. This story is just pulsing with so much humanity and emotion, even in a heart that has long since stopped beating. It takes an imagination as whimsical as Beagle’s to bring a ghost and cat back from the grave in this luminous tale of isolation, heartache, phantasmal beings, and the bonds of friendship that transcend even the world of the living.