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A Fine & Private Place Paperback – May 28, 2007

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Editorial Reviews Review

Conversing in a mausoleum with the dead, an eccentric recluse is tugged back into the world by a pair of ghostly lovers bearing an extraordinary gift--the final chance for his own happiness. When challenged by a faithless wife and aided by a talking raven, the lives of the living and the dead may be renewed by courage and passion, but only if not belatedly. Told with an elegiac wisdom, this delightful tale of magic and otherworldly love is a timeless work of fantasy imbued with hope and wonder. After multiple printings since 1960, this newest edition will contain the author's recent revisions and will stand as the definitive version of an ageless classic.

Questions for Peter S. Beagle

Jeff VanderMeer for When you were writing A Fine and Private Place, did you have any idea it was going to have such staying power?

Beagle: No. Not at all, of course. When I was 19 years old I never thought in terms of classics or being permanently around. I'd known enough writers, even at that age, to see that what happens to your work is so far out of your control you simply can't afford to let that kind of concern enter your thinking. The publisher asked you to remove four chapters from the book. At the time, did you agree with the decision? Have your feelings about it changed over the years?

Beagle: At the time I was outraged. I fought every step of the way, and every sentence. Today I'm inordinately grateful to Marshall Best, the editor who did that. Marshall is long gone, so I just hope that back then I had sense and courtesy enough to say thank you. But I don't think I realized fully what his effect on the book had been until many years later. If it weren’t for him I don’t think the book would still be in print. He's also the one who came up with the title and the allusion to those marvelously appropriate lines from Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress"--I'd originally called the book The Dark City, after the way that Jonathan Rebeck saw the graveyard. Titles, sad to say, have never been my strong suit. Most of my best have actually come from friends or editors. To what extent are any of the characters in A Fine and Private Place autobiographical? I ask because the detail work in the novel, especially with regard to older people, seems so fresh and free of cliche.

Beagle: I think that A Fine and Private Place is very nearly, though not quite, my first attempt to capture the voices in the Bronx neighborhood where I grew up. Nobody is based on any one person, but there’s a piece here and a piece there was useful. I hung fire on creating Laura Durant, when it came time to bring her into the story, until I decided to base her physically--not emotionally, but physically--on a Pittsburgh actress I was in a play with. I just didn't know enough young women in those days. And there are scenes in there which people from the old neighborhood would recognize--when Mrs. Klapper goes into the Wireman's grocery, that is very much the little store on the corner across from my house. Yet even there I mixed things up. I think what keeps the book fresh isn't the fantasy, but the fact that I was trying very hard to make it real. To make the voices real. In the end it is always the voices, for me. Your books have, over the years, resonated with readers everywhere. Have reader reactions or opinions changed the way you think of the books?

Beagle: Only in the sense that they sometimes make me go back and look at them. When you do this writing thing day by day, you don't do a lot of reflecting on your own relationship to the old work. What does get me, though, is just how much the books have actually influenced the real lives of real people in ways I couldn't imagine. That’s enormously touching for me. One of my favorite moments in your fiction is when the true Medieval infringes on the fake Medieval in The Folk of the Air. You manage to convey a real sense of the alien perspective--a sense that if we were to travel back in time, we might find our ancestors as hard to understand as we would creatures from outer space. Did you research your way into that moment and that effect, or...?

Beagle: I've thought about it a lot, having read a great deal of history (my father was a history teacher). And there are fiction writers out there who are so good at bringing the literal stink of a certain period into your nostrils as you read...well, for me they are intimidating, because there are novels I'd like to write based on certain historical events that I'm just not sure I could. In the case of The Folk of the Air I did a lot of research, from many angles, because the real group that my imaginary one was based on didn't limit itself to a narrow span of time, but rather built characters and personas out of events as far back as the Viking era and as recent as 1650. And the history as presented in their gatherings wasn't necessarily the most accurate. So on the one hand I was trying to go for a certain sense of the real, when it does come, in contrast to some fanciful, semi-informed imaginings. What are you currently working on--and where should we look for your short fiction in the next year or so?

Beagle: In terms of short fiction, I've got a chapbook coming out from Dreamhaven Books early in 2008 called Strange Roads, with three stories inspired by the art of Lisa Snellings-Clark. There are also six or eight pieces of short fiction appearing in various original fantasy anthologies, magazines, and fiction websites, and I'm working on a quartet of season-themed stories that will premiere not in print, but as podcasts. That last set is for a wonderful little website called The Green Man Review. They did a whole special issue about me and also named me their official Oak King this year, so it's the least I could do. In terms of book-length work, 2008 is going to be absolutely crazy with original books and reprints. Just crazy. There are a couple of new novels finally coming out, a manga-style graphic adaptation of The Last Unicorn, several new collections, and at least two nonfiction books. I can hardly keep track of it all myself, so the best way for anyone to stay up to date would be to visit my website or Conlan Press, or just sign up for my free email newsletter, The Raven. Whatever else I might think about being 68, the simple fact is that I'm busier than ever. It's like George Burns used to say: "I can't die--I'm booked!"


"I can't think of a better book to buy for someone you love this holiday season."

“One of literature’s most beautiful works about ghostly times and places...told with wit, charm, and a sense of individuality.”
New York Times Book Review

A Fine & Private Place is just as wonderful as I remembered it to be: beautifully written, the characters warmly drawn, the pages filled with conversations that run the gamut of the human condition.... It’s a great book in a lovely affordable package.”
Fantasy & Science Fiction

“Both sepulchral and oddly appealing.... [Beagle’s] ectoplasmic fable has a distinct mossy charm.”
TIME Magazine

San Francisco Chronicle

“A sweet, sad, and smart novel about life, death and love...a book that has endured for a reason.”
The Agony Column

“A wonderful work of literature...a gem of a novel.”

“Over a cold beverage and a hot bowl of chili, Peter Beagle recently told me how he came to write A Fine & Private Place. He was just nineteen years old at the time, the length of time that Mr. Rebeck spent in that cemetery. He was working as a counselor at a boys’ summer camp. Once the campers were settled for the night there wasn’t much for the counselors to do. Those who had sweethearts at the girls’ camp across the lake would borrow canoes and paddle across to see them. Peter had no such luck, he told me, so he warmed up his rattly little portable typewriter, cracked open a ream of paper, and starting writing a book. We are all incredibly lucky that Peter had no girlfriend that summer.”
—Dick Lupoff, SF Site

“An amazing read.... If fantastically developed characters trapped between love and death appeal to you, this is a nearly perfect book.”

Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Tachyon Publications (May 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1892391465
  • ISBN-13: 978-1892391469
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #407,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter S. Beagle was born in 1939 and raised in the Bronx, where he grew up surrounded by the arts and education: both his parents were teachers, three of his uncles were world-renowned gallery painters, and his immigrant grandfather was a respected writer, in Hebrew, of Jewish fiction and folktales. As a child Peter used to sit by himself in the stairwell of the apartment building he lived in, staring at the mailboxes across the way and making up stories to entertain himself. Today, thanks to classics like THE LAST UNICORN, A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE, and "Two Hearts," he is a living icon of fantasy fiction.

In addition to eight novels and over one hundred pieces of short fiction, Peter has written many teleplays and screenplays (including the animated versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE LAST UNICORN); six nonfiction books (among them the classic travel memoir I SEE BY MY OUTFIT); the libretto for one opera; and more than seventy published poems and songs. He currently makes his home in Oakland, California.

On his birthday in 2013 Peter and Conlan Press launched a screening tour of THE LAST UNICORN film that has so far put on more than 300 screenings in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Austria, and which will appear in several thousand different theaters around the world by the end of 2016.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By G in Ohio on January 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
I used to read this book at least once a year, although recently I've been too busy. But I'm about to start up again. This is a wonderful look at life and death, of people who are afraid to live and people who are afraid to die, and how in many ways they are the same fear. It is also a delicate romance, but not in the mushy or "romance novel" sense. It doesn't have the action and the sweep of some of Beagle's other books, but it has the depth and the heart.

It doesn't plod, as the other reviewer said, but it is lovely and slow, written in the smooth and elegant prose that is the hallmark of Beagle's best work. Was he really only 19 when he wrote it? You know a great book by Beagle when you never want it to end, and this is one. It isn't like any other book, so I can't compare it to anything. Read it.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kevin D. Flythe on February 6, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Although undoubtedly most well-known for his novel "The Last Unicorn," Peter S. Beagle's "A Fine and Private Place" has always been a personal favorite of mine. The title is taken from the Andrew Marvell poem, "To His Coy Mistress." The line is as follows: "The grave's a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace." The story Beagle tells in this novel is of two ghosts who in death find a richer love than ever they knew in life, a love which is all the more precious to them because its doom is that it cannot last.
Peter Beagle is simply the most amazing writer ever (IMHO), and so I highly recommend all of his works. This one in particular, though, has always been special to me. The writing is so simple that it's beautiful. And the story of Michael and Laura's love is so touching,... there was a chapter in the book that was so painfully lovely that it actually brought tears to my eyes, one of only two times that I can remember being brought to tears by a book.
I can't recommend it highly enough. It's amazing in so many ways. For one, nearly the entire book takes place in a single graveyard, a place which becomes so real to me that I wish it were indeed real so that I might be buried there myself. The characters are unforgettable as well. Even the talking raven is wonderful, whereas I usually abhor loquacious animals (look for the squirrel and the raven's conversation, it is hands down the most hilarious section of the novel!).
Besides all that, it's a love story, which may be a plus to some of you. For the rest of you out there who hate love stories, I understand, becuase I hate them too. But Beagle's romance totally pulled me in.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Shepherd VINE VOICE on July 20, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
What defines life? Where is the line between alive and dead? What makes life worth living? Sound like an outline for a course in philosophy? But these questions are what drives this lyrical, quiet, and unassuming story of two ghosts, a raven, a man caught somewhere in-between the living and the dead, and a very traditional Jewish widow.

The raven has an attitude, but insists on dragging sandwiches to Mr. Rebeck, a pharmacist who decided to live in the cemetery many years ago. Mr. Rebeck is lonely most of the time, except when there is a new burial, for then that person's ghost will stick around a little while and keep him company, until the ghost forgets what it is to be human, to be alive.

Michael Morgan and Laura are two such new ghosts. Each has a conflicted past, not fully remembered, and take different approaches to this new state of 'living', Michael trying fiercely to retain all he can of himself and his past, Laura trying to fully leave the world of the living. Mr. Rebeck suddenly finds himself with an unusually rich set of company, for besides Michael and Laura, he finds himself involved with the widow Mrs. Klapper, coming to visit the tomb of her husband.

Each of these characters is finely delineated, their conversations with each other slowly illuminating their pasts, their ambitions, their fears, and their hopes. From a little evening singing, quiet walks, the raven bringing news of the outside world, the story is built bit by little bit, with no large dramatic moments until the very end. It is, in essence, a character study, and each character's approach to life imposes its message about life's meaning and purpose.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 2, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Okay, that sounds a little corny, but it's probably what I will forever call last Tuesday when I went to the library to get a Beagle book or two. I'd read "The Last Unicorn," loved it, and had decided to see what else this man could do. I picked up "A Fine and Private Place," and another book by him, "Tasmin." I started AFAPP as soon as I got home, and finished it around 3:15 that morning. From the first sentence, I was hooked. Speaking of the first sentence, I had to read this one a few times to make sure I had it. "The baloney weighed the raven down..." Yes, that's it! AFAPP is a deeply touching story about a recluse living in a cemetery, a brash raven with an attitude, and two lost ghosts. What really makes this book special though, is the writing style. Beagle seamlessly weaves together beautiful, almost lyrical, words with a timeless tale of love and discovery. Just be sure to begin reading it in the morning, because you may not be able to put it down!
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