Peter S. Beagle’s grounded and surreal IN CALABRIA is a must read
Praise continues to come in for Peter S Beagle’s just released IN CALABRIA.
Photo: Paul Todisco
Martin Summerfield at GINGER NUTS OF HORROR lauds the novel.
There is something of the mock epic in the pages of IN CALABRIA, as Bianchi constantly questions the unicorn, which he dubs La Signora, about why she should choose his poor farm in the remote town of Calabria to deliver her foal in such a poor environment rather than “the magical woodlands of Tuscani” or the mountain ranges of the Aspromonte. Peter Beagle’s strength as a writer has always been writing very human characters in unusual situations, like Sword Cane Lal and Nyateneri from THE INNKEEPER’S SONG. Beagle understands that the more spectacular the circumstances, the more grounded and fleshed out the characters and their interactions with each other need to be.
I’ll spare you spoilers about what happens at the end, but I will say that it ends in a way that is both epic and mock epic, both grounded and surreal and it has one of my most favourite character interactions that involves two people who are talking about something else to mask the fact that they’re actually talking about themselves since the closing lines of dialogue in Serenity between Mal and Zoe. IN CALABRIA in many ways feels like Beagle writing in dialogue to THE LAST UNICORN – the unicorns in both books are hunted, and are a rare sight because they are presumably the last of their kind. But whereas THE LAST UNICORN focuses on how humans affect the unicorn, IN CALABRIA focuses on how the unicorn affects humanity and specifically, Bianchi. The book is less reminiscent of the bizarreness of Jorge Luis Borges and more in common with later magic realists such as Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami. But if I were to summarise In Calabria in a mere few sentences, I couldn’t sum it up better than Henry David Thoreau does when he talks about solitude and solitary life in his book WALDEN:
“However mean your life is, meet and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.”
At CRITICAL WIT, Megan Crittenden enjoys the book.
The plot is fairly by the numbers with few surprises, but like SUMMERLONG, Beagle’s prose makes it a worthy read. There were several sentences I had to reread twice for the pleasure, and more than a few times a sentence was so whimsical I almost felt bad for enjoying it so much. It’s very much a fairy tale for adults to enjoy with no shame. When a lot of fantasy these days bank on the grimness of say, GAME OF THRONES and revel in their darkness, it’s a nice break to just read something that is so utterly pleasant to experience.
As a novella this is of course a short book, and that both works for and against it. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome; it’s short, sweet and to the point. But like all books I enjoy, it feels too short at times. There were several things that could have been elaborated on, and there’s a few parts where you just have to let go of your questions because they just are not going to get answered.
IN CALABRIA is a quick weekend read that is so confident in it’s whimsy, it never comes off as cheesy or childish. It’s not THE LAST UNICORN, but is still a return to form for the man who did for unicorns what Tolkien has done for elves and dwarves. For any adult fan of unicorn stories, it’s a must read.
For more info about IN CALABRIA, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story
For more info on SUMMERLONG, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Magdalena Korzeniewska
Design by Elizabeth Story