After reading Peter Beagle's Summerlong
and being Tragically Unimpressed, I made my book club read Tamsin
just so I could remember the Beagles I have loved before.Tamsin
is very much a Beagle I have loved before. As a teenager it was probably my favorite Beagle, even moreso than The Last Unicorn
, just because I identified so hard
with sulky, obstreperous Jenny Gluckstein, a Jewish New York teenager who moves to Dorset and promptly falls head-over-heels for a beautiful eighteenth-century ghost named Tamsin Willoughby.
I described the book this way in book club. "But I don't want to oversell you on how gay it is," I added, worriedly. "I mean I haven't reread it since I was a teenager. It definitely might not be as gay as I remember. Maybe it isn't gay at all, and I was just projecting!"
...rest assured, this book is very gay. We're not entirely sure if Beagle knows just how
gay it is? There are numerous moments where Jenny describes in great detail the tingly feelings that Tamsin's quirky smile and vanilla smell and tiny ghost freckles make her feel, and then adds something like "I guess I'll probably feel that way about a boy someday!" Will you, Jenny? WILL YOU?
(I mean, maybe she will, bisexuality definitely an option, I'm just saying. The book is first-person, with the device of being an explanation of Everything That Went Down from the perspective of several years later for Jenny's friend Meena to read; the structure makes a whole lot more sense if one just assumes Jenny and Menna are by this point dating. Meena is in the book plenty! Thematically paralleled with Tamsin, even! Meena's jealousy of the time Jenny spends mysteriously disappearing to hang out with a ghost and Jenny's jealousy of Meena's tragic crush on The Boy She Pines For Across The Choir Benches is a whole thing!)
So yes, in retrospect, it turns out I still love Tamsin
- even though, in retrospect, reading it now, it's a super weirdly-structured book. The first solid third of the book is all Jenny's SULKY OBSTREPEROUS AGONIZING TEENAGE FEELINGS about leaving New York, which is fine, I guess, except it introduces half a dozen characters that are super important to Jenny in New York and will never be important again.
Then another character who's incredibly important to the finale of the book shows up maybe three chapters before the end, and Jenny's like "oh yeah, I forgot to mention her? But she's been here the whole time, having weird interactions with me the whole time, let's just pretend I've been talking about it, OK? OK."
Still, Jenny's amused-embarrassed voice looking back at all the time she spent as a hideously embarrassing teenager continues to ring about as true for me as it did when I myself was a hideously embarrassing teenager. I think I'm always going to love Tamsin
(Also the tragic feline love story of between Jenny's actual factual cat and Tamsin's imperturbable ghost cat continues to delight.)