Thursday, May 8, 2008

Forgotten Book Friday: A Fine and Private Place

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace

- Andrew Marvell.
"To His Coy Mistress"

I didn’t want to miss another Forgotten Books Friday and I’m not sure if this book has ever been forgotten, but I do think it warrants rediscovery.

A Fine and Private Place was the debut novel of Peter S. Beagle. It was published in 1960 when he was nineteen.

It came to me circa 1973 when I was about twelve. My uncle’s first wife had just started teaching high school English. I worshipped her because she was young and hip -- much cooler than my other older relatives. I loved her even more because she identified with my love of books and she fed it.

I haven’t read the book in a long time, but I have no doubt it stands the test of time. If I’m not mistaken, it hasn’t been out of print since it was published.

Jonathan Rebeck walked into a New York City cemetery nearly twenty years ago and has been living there in a mausoleum ever since. A potty-mouthed raven steals food and brings it to him, along with other trinkets he finds. It’s not that the raven is especially fond of Rebeck; that’s just what ravens do. Rebeck sees and communicates with the dead, acts as a mentor to them and like them, he can’t leave the cemetery.

Michael and Laura are ghosts who meet and fall in love after death. The dead don’t disappear until their interest in the living fades along with their memories and interest in hanging around.

Enter Mrs. Klapper, a Jewish widow who visits the grave of her husband every day until a chance encounter with Rebeck. Then she begins to go to the cemetery to visit him.

That’s as far into the story as I think I should go.

Since I first read this book, I’ve never been without a copy. It’s fantasy, it’s romance, it’s all the things I say I don’t read and I love it. This story has stayed with me for more than thirty years.

23 comments:

Leatherdykeuk said...

That sounds fascinating. Thanks for the rec :)

kristenspina said...

19? He wrote it when he was 19? That, in itself, is a tremendous accomplishment. I'm curious, now. I'll have to pick up a copy.

steve said...

I had no idea that Beagle published a book at such a young age. Mozart and Mendelssohn may write symphonies in their teens, but it's rare for authors to start so young. Alfred Jarry and Raymond Radiguet come to mind, but my mind draws a blank after thinking of these Frenchmen who died young.

Whenever I hear the Marvell's line, it reminds me of a sign in a Mayfair bath boutique circa 1970: "The bath's a fine and private place. And some, I think, do there embrace." (I didn't actually see the sign, but read about it in TIME.) See

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,878664,00.html?promoid=googlep

Denis said...

Do you ever talk with your uncles first wife?

Patti said...

the book is going on my list. your recommendation is hard to beat.

Carleen Brice said...

Cool cover!

Lisa said...

Rachel, Actually I think you in particular would really like it.

Kristen, Everybody has old favorites and this is one of mine.

Steve, Last night I read that he was a camp counselor and when the other guys were out with girls, he couldn't get a date so he stayed behind and wrote this book. He grew up near a cemetery in the Bronx.

And I do remember that!

Denis, We used to stay in much closer contact, but now I think I haven't spoken with her in a couple of years. We exchange emails probably once a year. She is teaching high school again, but she and her husband recently bought a place in Florida and are entertaining notions of retirement. I'm not sure if Florida would be just for the winter and they'd stay in Milton the rest of the year or what.

Patti, I actually can't think of a reason why just about anybody shouldn't enjoy this book.

Carleen, As with any book that's been out for a while, there have been a lot of them. I'm pretty sure this cover is the one on the book I first read. Note the 95 cent price :)

Yogamum said...

Sounds like a good one!

Why are there SO MANY books I want to read??

Charles Gramlich said...

This is on of those books to my shame that I've never read. I'll have much to answer for when I go before the great Novel in the sky.

Larramie said...

Oh, Lisa, this sounds wonderful -- a perfect gem. Thank you!

Lisa said...

Yogamum, If I had to whittle down a list of hmmm maybe top 10 books I'd recommend, this would be on it.

Charles, I guess we'd better not even think about all of the books we can't get to. So many books and so little time!

Larramie, I really think you would love this one. If you decide to read it, please promise you'll let me know.

Sustenance Scout said...

Can't wait to read it! Sounds like a classic, K.

Sustenance Scout said...

Can't wait to read it! Sounds like a classic, K.

Barrie said...

This book looks great! And I can't believe I forgot Forgotten Friday again! That's it. I'm marking in on my calendar. I already have a book picked out and everything.

Sphinx Ink said...

Thanks, Lisa, for reminding me of this book. I read it when I was a teenager; I remember liking it a lot, but haven't revisited it in the many years since then. I think you're right that it's never been out of print--quite an accomplishment for any author, but especially a 19-year-old. I also recall loving Peter Beagle's THE LAST UNICORN, which also has been in print since first published. I'll have to look for both of them; I probably still have my copies, although no doubt they're buried deep in some box in my storage unit.

Lana Gramlich said...

Sounds very interesting--thanks for the tip!
Sorry I've been AWOL--I've been playing tour guide for my Canadian visitor. Things should be back to normal later this week.

Lisa said...

Karen, I think it is actually considered a classic.

Barrie, I think you'd like it. I'm curious as to how it compares to the YA of today. I'm not sure if it was intended as YA in its day, but I sure liked it at 12.

Sphinx, I haven't re-read a book in a long time since I've got such a massive TBR stack, but I'm really tempted to re-read this one.

Lana, AWOL excused -- you've been up to your elbows in...reptiles! I've been vicariously enjoying your adventures :)

Billy said...

Andrew Marvell! Haven't heard anyone mention him for years. I love the metaphysical 17th Cavalier poets. There were rakes! Carpe diem lol.

Shauna Roberts said...

Sounds cool! I'll put its in my pile of books to buy someday.

Lisa said...

Billy, I'm such a complete Philistine when it comes to poetry. Every time I recognize a line, I realize I either read it in a novel or I heard it in a movie! I actually did go and read this entire poem not long ago, since this was the only piece of it I'd read. Sort of like Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay", which I only know because Ponyboy recites it in THE OUTSIDERS. :)

Shauna, This has to be one of the few books I've ever read that I can't imagine just about anyone not liking. I usually have to qualify all of my recommendations, but this one's a gem.

Sidney said...

I have heard of that and read some other things by Beagel but never that one. I need to pick it up. This makes me want to seek it out.

Vesper said...

Another one that I'll have to add to my "to read" list. Sounds very interesting. Thank you!

Anura said...

Hi, Lisa,
I ended in your blog looking for a cover of "A fine and private place" (just tell you that I copied it...). It's funny, because I am trying to recommend this book as well. In Spain, Peter Beagle is not as famous as other fantasy writers and a Spanish edition of "A fine..." is really difficult to find. I discovered it by chance in an old second hand bookstore, one of those fine surprises that sometimes wait for bibliophiles.
I will keep an eye on your blog!
Bests,
Anura

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.


Virginia Woolf