In Calabria by Peter S Beagle

Posted On 6 March 2017

Filed under Book Reviews

Comments Dropped 15 responses

incalabriaIn Calabria is my second book by the author Peter S Beagle, my first being Summerlong.  This book has a different feel in that it’s got an earthy realism to it that was unexpected, especially when picking up a book that is clearly going to feature a unicorn.  It’s quite beautifully written and the fantasy elements are very ‘quiet’ almost like an aside.

Anyway, at the start of the story we are introduced to Claudio Bianchi.  Claudio is a forty something year old man living on a remote farm in Southern Italy.  He values his privacy and rarely sees anyone else, other than his animals (which are almost as grumpy as he is) and the postman who regularly visits.  Claudio is definitely becoming fixed in his ways and a little cantankerous.  That is until a unicorn literally arrives on his property one day.  I think if I was living such a solitary life and a unicorn turned up on my property I would probably think I’d gone insane and I think at first there is an element of that in Claudio’s reaction.  That is until he realises that his visitor keeps returning on a regular basis and it seems has chosen Claudio’s farm to nest down and give birth.

Of course, once Claudio realises that La Signora (the name he adopts for the unicorn) is about to give birth he promises to protect her and keep her existence a secret. Unfortunately, secrets have a way of finding the light no matter how deeply you might try to bury them and this case is no exception.  Pretty soon, Claudio finds his farm overrun by Paparazzi with long lens cameras all desperate for a sighting.  Helicopters buzz overhead in a constant search and on top of that it seems that La Signora has come to the attention of a criminal element, the Ndrangheta, who make Claudio an offer for his farm – and offer that they expect him to accept.

And so, Claudio’s world has been turned upside down whether he wanted it to or not.  He’s a stubborn man though and he’s determined to protect the unicorn until it’s given birth, even though his life and livelihood are under threat.

At the same time Claudio strikes up a tentative and unexpected relationship with a young woman called Giovanna.  Giovanna is the sister to Claudio’s postman and has started to help him with his postal duties once a week.  She becomes fascinated by Claudio and the two of them eventually strike up a relationship that has a certain innocence to it.  It may be that this relationship won’t be for everyone what with Claudio being a much older man than Giovanna but I thought it was well portrayed and written in a very simple style.  I think the only thing that did give me pause for thought was that in Summerlong, similarly, Beagle writes about an older man and his involvement with a much younger woman (although it is actually much more complicated than that).  The main focus of both books, I felt, is about second chances and I think that both books have that particular theme in common.

Did the unicorn choose Claudio’s farm because of it’s remoteness or seclusion or was it drawn there to jolt him out of his life of loneliness.  I don’t think, at the end of the day, that the unicorn really needed anything from Claudio, and I don’t think that Claudio felt he needed anything from the unicorn – but in spite of that the very presence of this glorious and mythical beast is the catalyst for change and without doubt the two of them eventually do help each other.

Would I recommend In Calabria?  Yes.  This is a short story, it’s beautifully written and Beagle’s prose easily conjures up the region.  The harsh lifestyle and the beauty offset by the rugged.  If you’re expecting an all out fantasy in which the main protagonist befriends the unicorn then you’re not going to find it here.  Be in no doubt that this unicorn is not just a mythical creature but is also a wild animal – she’s not about to start talking to Claudio or inviting him to ride around on her back while she traverses rainbows in the sky.  Not that sort of novel.  This unicorn is really, put simply, a creature that provokes change.  Her appearance changes Claudio irretrievably and brings something different out in him, something that makes him appear different to others and gives him a shot at shaking his life out of the stupor into which it’s fallen.

Beautifully simplistic, wonderful prose, subdued fantasy, a hint of romance tempered with an underlying streak of potential violence.

I enjoyed this in fact I was fascinated by it enough to read it in one sitting.  It was very unusual and quite different than I expected.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


15 Responses to “In Calabria by Peter S Beagle”

  1. Tammy

    I may have to reconsider this. Initially I decided not to read it because I just didn’t enjoy the Last Unicorn that much.This sounds unusual and something I might enjoy, though!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Well, you can’t fit in all the books after all! I liked this – very low on fantasy though, quite gritty, a bit dark and a tale of second changes I thought.
      Lynn 😀

  2. sjhigbee

    This one sounds unusual and very interesting – and I LOVE that cover… Thank you for the review, Lynn:).

    • @lynnsbooks

      No worries – it was certainly unusual. Fantasy realism and quite beautifully told – even with the darker elements of the story.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Ooo… that sounds sooo up my street!

      • @lynnsbooks

        A very intriguing little book – I’d be interested to see what you make of it.

      • sjhigbee

        Yes – I think I need to get hold of this one…

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Your description of this book makes me think this author’s writing must have a poetic slant to it: it comes across clearly in the way you describe the story. And this makes it quite intriguing….

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I think you could say that – he is a lovely writer. This is only a short story but I think it’s beautifully written and packs quite a punch. Very light on the fantasy – it’s almost like the unicorn is simply there to bring about change. Unusual and quite compelling.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    After a few false starts with this novella, I actually ended up really liking it. I think it’s true that the romance might not be for everyone, but personally I don’t mind huge age gap relationships as long as they are written well – like in this one and in some works by Lois McMaster Bujold. Like you said, it is so much more complicated than that, and I didn’t think about the second chances theme but you are so right. This was Claudio’s second chance at finding happiness, and I wish that theme had been explore a little more, which might be why I kinda wanted this to be longer 😛

    • @lynnsbooks

      I definitely think this could have been expanded upon – but, I always feel like that when I get a story I’m enjoying, and he’s such a talented author that you can’t help wanting more.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Oh, this sounds really good. I would not have expected an “earthy realism”, which makes it sound more appealing to me.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Very realistic, little fantasy to be honest – okay, a unicorn in the guy’s garden – but it’s almost just like a talking point rather than a creature of fantasy. Gritty and realistic.

  6. Short and Sweet | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] In Calabria by Peter S Beagle […]

  7. TTT: Top 10 favourite novellas/short stories | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] In Calabria by Peter S Beagle – ‘a unicorn fable for the modern age’ […]

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