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A Dance For Emilia
Peter S. Beagle
Roc Books, 87 pages


Yvonne Gilbert
A Dance For Emilia
Peter S. Beagle
Born in New York in 1939, Peter S. Beagle graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1959. His works include the novels A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn and The Folk of the Air, as well as non-fiction books and the screenplay for the animated film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The Last Unicorn became an animated film in 1982. He lives in Davis, California.

Peter S. Beagle Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Tamsin
SF Site Review: Giant Bones
The Last Unicorn Review

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nick Gevers

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Peter Beagle's new novella, A Dance For Emilia, is a fine and deeply felt mix of wit and elegy. Like his previous novel, Tamsin (1999), A Dance is a contemporary fantasy, told in a conversational modern voice less conspicuously flamboyant than the famously fabulous diction of The Last Unicorn and The Innkeeper's Song; but unlike Tamsin's artificial and awkward teenage narrator, A Dance's Jacob is concisely and maturely reminiscent, and his tale has a truly adult fascination. Jacob is in a real sense Beagle himself, recounting an apparently actual grief; there is real feeling here, authentic truth to convey. A Dance For Emilia is a dance with Death, a dance of loss and horror; but rarely has that dance been conducted with such humour and such style...

Beagle has always had a gift for rendering the textures of late 20th century life with an odd fantastic accuracy (think of A Fine and Private Place and Lila The Werewolf and The Folk of the Air). Most of A Dance For Emilia is taken up with the sensitive but sometimes hilarious portrayal of two accomplished but ordinary lives in the arts: Jacob is an actor of some talent but no great fame, who has moved to the West Coast of America to live in the bohemian circumstances that region can afford him; Sam, his friend since high school, is a failed ballet dancer who has sunk so low as to become a magazine culture critic in his native habitat, the cosmopolitan East. Their relationship, which persists into middle age despite their geographical separation, is never perfect, as Sam always seems to withhold his inner secrets and uncertainties, but that is as good as friendship generally gets. In this case, as the novella's closing sections reveal, friendship is strong enough to transcend the grave.

Sam dies suddenly. He had in his last years conceived a moderately peculiar affection for a much younger woman called Emilia, which was, peculiarly enough, reciprocated; he left his mischievously named and rather aged Abyssinian cat, Millamant, in her care. Now the cat begins to show signs of possession by Sam's spirit; Emilia brings her West for Jacob's scrutiny; in passages of eerie beauty that rank amongst Beagle's best, Millamant dances as Sam never could; and the dilemmas of loss acquire a rich and farcical dimension. A Dance is resolved with absolutely appropriate ambiguity; it's unlikely that Beagle has ever squared sentimentality with sense quite this masterfully.

Here then is Peter Beagle, again pushing Fantasy in demanding new directions, again demonstrating, with extraordinary wise precision, that a short fable can outweigh an epic tome any day. For Fantasy's sake, let the lesson be learned.

Copyright © 2001 Nick Gevers

Since completing a Ph.D. on uses of history in SF, Nick Gevers has become a moderately prolific reviewer and interviewer in the field of speculative fiction. He has published in INTERZONE, NOVA EXPRESS, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF SF, and GALAXIES; much of his work is available at INFINITY PLUS, of which he is Associate Editor. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


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