Sunday 27 November 2016

Book Review: In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

Peter Beagle is one of the most highly revered authors of fantasy, especially among other authors.  The Last Unicorn is a hugely acclaimed and beloved classic (also an animated movie), but his other novels are not as well-known. He still writes, and In Calabria is his latest novel.

Incidentally, it is about a unicorn. Or rather, it is a novel about the impact a unicorn has when it appears one day in the back yard of a cranky old farmer in the Italian region of Calabria.

Our hero, Claudio Bianchi, is just the right sort of curmudgeon. He grizzles and growls, but without any malice. He's virtually a hermit, content to live at the outermost edge of society, but cares deeply about the animals he tends to. His only regular human contact is the postman, who teasingly asks Claudio about his poetry on a daily basis. Beagle knows how to create authentic reality by zooming in ever so briefly on the minutest, but most human detail, and this gives a richness to the flavour of his stories.

Two things change in Claudio's life: the unicorn appears, and, coincidentally. the postman's younger sister takes over responsibility for delivering the mail on Fridays.

In Calabria is a lovely novel. Even though it is set in the present, it has a strong sense of the Romantic (in the sense of the Romantic period of literature & art) and a yearning for magical beauty. It is also a novel about a curmudgeon slowly softening up, and a novel about defiance against evil. That said, it is not quite as wonderful as the recently published Summerlong: the story has fewer characters to play with, and, though unfathomable, the unicorn does not have the same charisma as Summerlong's Lioness...

Rating: 4/5

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