In order to promote the classic works of "older" SFF authors who are sadly not as widely read as he feels they should be in this day and age, George R. R. Martin selected Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place as the first title I should read and review for losing our NFL wager. Beagle is better known for The Last Unicorn, but A Fine and Private Place is GRRM's favorite work by the celebrated speculative fiction writer.
As I felt was the case with Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth, I was afraid of the possibility that this book had not aged well. Nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, the current edition contains Beagle's most recent set of revisions. Yet I get the feeling that A Fine and Private Place is an ageless story that should strike a chord with countless readers, both old and new.
Nearly two decades before, Jonathan Rebeck turned his back on his life and elected to make his home in the Bronx's Yorkchester Cemetery. Befriending the newly dead, he lives in an abandoned mausoleum. Other than the spirits of the dead, Mr. Rebeck's only companion is a talking raven. Then one day, this eccentric recluse's existence is disrupted by an unlikely love story between two ghosts. Soon, Rebeck is drawn toward a living woman who visits the cemetery, and nothing will ever be the same again.
Written in a thoughtful prose filled with grace, A Fine and Private Place is a tale of love and what it means to be alive -- and dead. At times sad and at times whimsical, it's a wonderful story of hope.
NYC being one of my two favorite cities in the world, I was delighted to be brought back in time to a "New York that was." As I mentioned, though the story occurs during the sixties, it is nevertheless accessible to basically any reader looking for a quality read. It truly has that "timeless" feel. . .
Although the narrative sets the mood, it's the characterization which infuses this one with life. Jonathan Rebeck might be the principal protagonist, and yet it's the ghosts of Michael and Laura who are the veritable heart of the novel. And the raven steals the show in every scene it appears in.
This book has remained in print for decades and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why. I'm glad Martin "punished me" by forcing me to read this one. A Fine and Private Place is considered a modern fantasy classic, and you won't get any argument from me.
Peter S. Beagle will soon release We Never Talk About my Brother (Canada, USA, Europe), a collection of short stories that I will probably take a look at, hopefully sooner than later.
If, like me, you have yet to give Beagle a chance, A Fine and Private Place will not disappoint. Moreover, it will undoubtedly make you want to read more of Peter S. Beagle's body of work.
The final verdict: 7.75/10