In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle – Book Review
Peter S. Beagle
October 24, 2011
When Peter S. Beagle’s name shares a cover with a picture of a unicorn, it’s easy to make assumptions. Let me assure you that In Calabria
is nothing at all like The Last Unicorn
. Though it features the same creature, this story is not a fairy tale. It’s a journey of discovery and redemption with just enough magic to inspire you to believe the impossible.
Claudio Bianchi is a middle-aged man with a reputation for gruff and antisocial behavior. At forty-seven, Bianchi is set in his ways, a divorcé resigned to a solitary life. While he talks to his animals and reads classical Italian poetry to his cows, few people visit his farm. The postman, Romani, visits twice a week and is a welcome annoyance.
The appearance of a golden-white unicorn in his vineyard shakes him out of his routine life. The fleeting glimpse inspires him to write poetry (which he insists he does not write), and his life begins to subtly change. When he realizes the unicorn is pregnant, he’s motivated to help her and keep her foal safe. La Signora, as he calls her, becomes a catalyst that forces Bianchi to connect with the world he disdains. Her presence inspires his journey out of a solitary life and into a world of magic, romance, and danger.
Giovanna, who takes over her brother’s postal route, discovers his secret but swears to keep it. As surely as La Signora has a mate waiting for her and her foal, Bianchi also finds love with Giovanna, though she is half his age. Of course, the unicorn can’t be hidden, and the rumors begin to spread. The violence and vulgarity of the modern world intrudes, and Bianchi’s farm is plagued by journalists, tourists, and unsavory people who would do anything for the ultimate trophy.
Unicorns are the bearers of fable and allegory, and Beagle weaves myth and magic into the story with a deft hand. His prose is lyrical, and to rush through the book is to do it an injustice. Avid readers may finish it in a day or two, but it invites re-reading to find gems of prose, imagery, or nuance that slipped past on the first read.
In Calabria is a place where ancient myth and the chaotic modern world meet with the kind of idyllic European countryside that exists only in daydreams. Where these paths cross, magic passes by, leaving love and hope it its wake.
Review by S. Kay Nash