A Fine and Private Place

{4/5} “Caring about things is much more important to the dead because it’s all they have to keep them conscious. Without it they fade, dwindle, thin to the texture of a whisper. The same thing happens to people, but nobody notices it because their bodies act as masks. The dead have no masks.”

Jonathan lives in the cemetery — he hasn’t left it for 19 years. A raven who talks brings him food twice a day. And when there’s a funeral,┬áJonathan talks with the newly dead to ease their transition. Sometimes he even plays chess with them. Then one day a woman comes along who makes him feel like maybe he could leave the cemetery.

Jonathan used to be a pharmacist but he went bankrupt. Gertrude spends a fair amount of time talking with┬áJonathan but she often talks about her late husband Morris. Michael, newly dead, thinks that his wife poisoned him. Laura, also newly dead, was only 29 when she died — she says she lived a boring life. And the raven, my favourite character, hitches a ride when he’s tired of flying.

Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place was published in 1960.

It’s a gentle story, in that way reminding me of Dandelion Wine. The characters, whether they’re alive or dead, are just trying to figure out what to do with their existence. It’s about friendship, love, and the meaning of life.

Beagle’s The Last Unicorn joined my list of favourite fantasy novels fairly recently. Beagle is also the writer of the great “Sarek” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 29th, 2012 at 8:14 pm and is filed under Reviews of books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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