Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tam Lin

If you know the story of Tam Lin, then you may be puzzled when you first dive into Pamela Dean's daunting volume of the same name. The life of college student Janet Carter during the 1970s seems a far cry from any sort of fairy tale (though the source material is actually a Scottish ballad, anyway). Dean takes her time bringing the main plot to bear, instead establishing and developing her characters, their relationships, and the setting of Blackstock College. She also gives free rein to an obvious love of literature and language; if anything threatens to shatter suspension of disbelief it's how amazingly well-read in the most arcane of literature these kids are. Still, Janet is the daughter of an English professor and the rest of her crew all have equally valid reasons for being walking literary anthologies. And if you love such subjects, it's a joy to read about new and familiar pieces and see how they fit into the story. Even though the book is based off the ballad "Tam Lin," that's hardly the only story that finds itself woven into the novel. Shakespeare, Stoppard, Fry, and Keats are all names tossed around casually while maintaining high significance to the plot.

And, yes, there is a plot, even if it takes its time becoming evident. The ending is quite satisfying, and it's worth the four hundred pages it takes to get to that point. Janet reminds me a fair bit of Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, that same flawed yet likeable, somewhat stubborn personality. Same slightly unbelievable smarts, too. Books like these always spur me to read more classics and tough stuff, just to prove my book nerd cred. Anyway, this one's highly recommended. It can be a bit daunting and confusing, but if you just give the book the benefit of the doubt, you'll be glad you did.

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